Brian O'Driscoll spoke to Off The Ball about the impact of Manu Tuilagi, but also opportunities for Ireland to defend a player who has troubled them in the past.
Despite more recent injury travails, Manu Tuilagi will not be short of confidence when facing Andy Farrell's side, having won all five of the last five games he played against them.
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) February 20, 2020
That record will just add to to the player's confidence, says O'Driscoll who reckons it's a rare record: "There are very few English players that can say that, certainly in the modern era."
O'Driscoll has some mixed feelings towards seeing Tuilagi line out against Ireland, and couldn't conceal his affection for the player.
"Any time I see Manu Tuilagi in an England team it brings a smile to my face, except when they are playing Ireland.
"I know him personally and I know what a good lad he is but also what a phenomenal rugby player he can be.
"I got to play with him with the Lions in 2013 and we haven't seen that ability in so many years. So to get to see him thrive it gives me satisfaction but he is almost undefendable on his day.
Tuilagi has a wonderful mix of skills that drew comparisons from O'Driscoll with another Six nations centre with a bag of tricks.
"It's the power, pace, handling, offloading combination, a bit like Vakatawa in a slightly different form. It doesn't matter what he throws at you, it's just going to be very difficult to deal with single-handedly in particular.
"The go-forward and momentum he can give from an outside-back is like very few others in the world.
"Sonny Bil isn't in that category for me. He's very unique in being able to people them with go-forward ball and when England become collision winners are a very difficult team to play against, that's their game.
Opportunities for Ireland
Despite the fulsome praise for Tuilagi, O'Driscoll thinks there are areas of his game Ireland can target.
"He's not without his faults, defensively with Leicester over the course of the last year or two he has made some terrible reads. But he seems to have gotten a huge amount of that right (with England).
"He looks more comfortable in the current England (defensive) system than he did when he was rehabilitating after injury with Leicester."
How Ireland deal with Tuilagi will be a collective effort according to the former Lions captain. That process begins with not giving the Leicester player and space to gain momentum or break the gainline.
"Close his space, you have to own that space," says O'Driscoll, who urged Ireland to "think as a team." BOD reckons Tuilagi will carry the ball as early as possible. That will be a chance for the Irish defence to get an early hit on the English centre, but it will be a collective effort: "it will be a two-man job, early in the game."
With the injuries Tuilagi has had, O'Driscoll thinks Ireland will be keen to man a big early hit, just to plant any potential seeds of doubt and end the Leicester powerhouse's perfect run against Ireland.
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