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Saturday rugby headlines as Manu Tuilagi backed for Lions call-up after stunning return from eight-month injury absence

Here are your rugby headlines for Satuday 29 May.

McGeechan backs Tuilagi for Lions

Lions legend Sir Ian McGeechan believes Manu Tuilagi could roar with the Lions this summer after a stunning return to the rugby field.

The blockbusting centre came off the bench to help Sale clinch an outstanding victory over Bristol which secured their place in the Gallagher Premiership play-offs.

Bristol had just taken the lead when Tuilagi replaced youngster Connor Doherty for his first game in just under eight months, with Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson saying the mere presence of the 30-year-old on the field inspired his side to their triumph.

Former Lions coach McGeechan says Tuilagi’s return after eight months out with a torn Achilles ‘is obviously an exciting moment’.

He believes the 30-year-old could yet earn an 11th hour Lions call-up by Warren Gatland if his centres get injured in South Africa.

“A couple of rampaging performances from the England centre in the final few weeks of the domestic season – perhaps inspiring Sale to the Premiership title, who knows – and it is not hard to imagine Tuilagi’s name leaping to the front of the reserve queue should anything befall any of Warren’s chosen Lions centres,” McGeechan wrote in a Telegraph column.

Centre is viewed by many as the weak link in Gatland’s squad, with George North and Jonathan Davies not touring, and a fit-again Tuilagi’s charges down the middle would perfectly suit the Warrenball approach the former Wales boss has previously utilised.

Although Tuilagi’s opportunities with ball in hand against Bristol were limited, Sale’s performance improved immeasurably when he came on as they secured a 22-12 triumph and Sanderson felt the England star was a significant factor in that.

“He’s the glue in the team,” he said. “He spends more time with the younger lads than he does the seniors. He brings everyone together and he’s a brilliant barista!

“He must have taught 20 people how to make coffee, so his time is everyone else’s. That’s why people rally to him because of the bloke he is, not just the player.

“He’s a really lovely bloke so to see him out there after what he’s been through, I’m happy for him.”

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The Sharks’ win over the league leaders ensured their place in the end-of-season play-offs – their first top-four finish since the 2006 Premiership triumph.

Springboks chief expects Lions to move away from Wales blueprint

South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is expecting the Lions to play a fast-tempo game and not try to arm-wrestle the world champion Springboks this summer.

Erasmus coached the Boks to the World Cup title in Japan in 2019, which included a forward-dominated 19-16 semi-final win over Warren Gatland’s Wales.

Gatland will take charge of the Lions, but the choice of his coaches and players has led Erasmus to believe that the former Wales coach is planning a far more expansive style.

“Scotland have got eight players in the squad and five of them are backline players. Gregor Townsend is the attack coach. That must tell you something,” Erasmus told reporters on Friday.

“If you look at their forwards, it is a fast, quick pack. The props are mobile, quick guys. The same with the loose forwards. If Courtney Lawes is playing lock then all those loose-forwards are fast and busy.

“We are definitely going to see a mix, not the Wales Test match of who grinds it out.”

Henry Slade issues statement following jab interview

England centre Henry Slade has issued a statement following the controversy ignited by his interview with the Telegraph.

When asked about the vaccines that are currently being administered to people, Slade told the Telegraph : “I’m not going to have a vaccine. I don’t agree with it all. I don’t think you can trust it, can you?”

Following backlash to those quotes, he has since issued a statement of clarification via his club, Exeter Chiefs.

“The comments attributed to me in regards to the Covid-19 vaccination form a very small part of an exclusive interview I had with the newspaper, which was set up to talk about Type-1 diabetes,” he said.

“I am acutely aware of the importance of vaccines and the role it plays.

“From my own personal experience, I have encountered issues in the past with the use of vaccines and I am continually wary around this area. That said, I have no hidden agenda against the current, nationwide roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

“When the time comes for me to make an informed decision on whether or not I take up the option of having the vaccination, I will of course consider the thoughts of my family and friends, the latest Government advice, as well as all others around me.

“In no way whatsoever am I offering advice to the general public as to the pros and cons of the vaccination programme. Everyone has a right to their own opinion on this matter, but given my past experiences, I wish to make the correct decision for myself.”

CVC Six Nations deal facing inquiry

CVC’s £365 million deal with Six Nations could be blocked after it was revealed it will be investigated by the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA).

A similar inquiry has been launched in Ireland by its Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, which last year cleared the private-equity firm to buy a 28 per cent share of the PRO14 Rugby tournament.

A deal was agreed earlier this year for CVC to invest up to £365m for a share in Six Nations Rugby, working alongside the rugby unions of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

The deal is expected to involve investment to grow and develop the game and to further enhance the sporting spectacle of all the tournaments, the teams and the brands alongside looking at broader commercial capabilities.

Under the terms of the agreement the six unions will retain sole responsibility for all sporting matters as well as majority control of commercial decisions.

The CMA has launched an initial investigation into whether the deal may lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any markets in the UK.

The regulator is inviting comments on the deal and will decide by July 22 whether to refer it for an in-depth Phase 2 investigation.

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