England head coach Stuart Lancaster is predicting a “fascinating confrontation” between Manu Tuilagi and Julian Savea in Saturday’s second Test against New Zealand in Dunedin.
Lancaster has taken the bold step of naming Tuilagi on the right wing with Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell lining up in the centres for the tourists’ bid to level the series at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Opposite Tuilagi will be the prolific Savea, who has plundered 19 tries in 20 Tests and returns to the All Blacks’ starting XV after missing the first Test with a knee injury.
“I’m sure there will be occasions when Manu and Julian come across each other. Both teams will use Manu or Savea off the wing,” Lancaster said.
“Savea will definitely pose a threat through the midfield, as will Manu.
“Savea is a huge attacking threat for them. If you look back at the game in November against us, his threat was clear because he scored two tries.
“He’s a key man for them. I’m sure he’ll enhance their attacking options.
“I’m sure there will be times when Manu and Savea meet one to one and it will be a fascinating confrontation.”
The Dunedin showdown will be Tuilagi’s first Test on the wing and his first appearance in the position since 2011, when he performed the role at Leicester.
Lancaster, however, insists the switch is not a gamble as England attempt to land a telling blow in a series that is delicately poised.
“There’s not really an element of risk, when we look at the work Manu’s done during the week in training,” Lancaster said.
“He’s played there as an age grade player, so he has played there before.
“As with all selections, you look at the pros and cons and the balance of our side has been enhanced by having Luther and Billy back in the centres and Owen Farrell and Danny Care at nine and 10.
“It’s something we’ve wanted to look at for a while, so we’re very comfortable with this selection. Wing is not a new position for him.”
Tuilagi is expected to flourish on the wing as an attacking force, but there are concerns over his speed on the turn and aerial ability, and New Zealand are sure to shower him with kicks.
“Manu’s done a few high balls in training, but the way we defend our wingers will be up and the back field will be covered by number eight, 15, 10,” Lancaster said.
“He’s more than happy catching the high ball, there’s no doubt about it. I’m sure some will come his way.”
The All Blacks edged the first Test 20-15 with a 78th-minute try from Conrad Smith enabling them to draw first blood in what is expected to be a tight series.
“We are very respectful of New Zealand and the way they closed out the game at Eden Park,” Lancaster said.
“We did lots of good things but ultimately didn’t win, and New Zealand deserve huge credit for that.
“I’m sure they’ll be better prepared and have more cohesion for this Test.
“They’ll be a significantly better side this week, so we need to be better also.”