Manu Tuilagi can turn into a playmaker like Ma’a Nonu

Manu Tuilagi Of all the conundrums Stuart Lancaster needs to solve before the All Blacks come to town, the most pressing is – to paraphrase the musical – how do you solve a problem like Manu?

It is clear Tuilagi, 21, will be an England mainstay. He has the skillset and physical attributes that no other English player can match; his three tries against Fiji and Australia are testament to that.

The issue lies that by relying purely on his power Tuilagi is reduced to the role of battering ram. The solution, however, can be found in the New Zealand ranks.

“Trying to do too much by himself, not trusting other areas of his game and prone to acts of impetuosity” – not a description of Tuilagi, but of Ma’a Nonu, when he first burst onto the international scene, by his then Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper.

While Nonu’s power has not diminished, his arsenal has grown considerably with the development of a kicking and passing game that elevated him above Sonny Bill Williams in the World Cup final.

No-one witnessed that transition more clearly than Cooper who told The Rugby Paper of the parallels between Tuilagi and the early Nonu.

He said: “Manu is really strong and you saw that particularly with his try against Australia, when he maybe relied too much on his power rather than finding the man on his shoulder.

“That’s a similar characteristic to how Ma’a used to play. When we saw him as a young 19-year-old playing for Wellington the natural ability he was showing was obvious and, as coaches, we just had to make sure he applied it.

“Part of the problem was that he was so desperate to win he would try to do everything himself. He was actually very talented, but people didn’t see that because he didn’t have control and people just saw a powerhouse.

“He won us plenty of games singehandedly, but he became far more of a threat when he learned to use the people around him.

“That’s where Ma’a was very much like Tuilagi is now, but Ma’a added to his game the ability to draw the defence in and offload whereas in early days he’d just put the blinkers on.”

Just as Tuilagi has run into trouble on the field – the haymaker landed on Chris Ashton – and off it – his early departure from a ferry – Nonu had a chequered disciplinary record.

Cleaning up his act was crucial to his evolution, according to Cooper, as was interaction with former All Blacks attack coach Wayne Smith.

“He got a high profile very quickly because of the way he played and the way he looks with his hair – he stands out,” Cooper added.

“Suddenly he had to deal with publicity and a lot of people wanting a piece of him and that was hard.

“He did some silly things. He’d overcommit at rucks and pick up some stupid yellow cards but I don’t see him getting penalised like he did and he’s a lot more mature.

“He’ll always be a natural ball runner and very strong in the contact, but Wayne Smith had a lot to do with how he now has a great kick and a terrific wide pass.

“Wayne needs to take a lot of credit for polishing Ma’a Nonu up to the player he is.”

Cooper’s assessment of the similarities between the pair is endorsed by Daryl Gibson, the former Leicester and All Blacks centre.

While Nonu is primarily used at inside centre for the All Blacks and Tuilagi has stated his preference to stay at 13, Gibson sees no reason why his Leicester successor cannot emulate Nonu, 30.

He said: “When Ma’a came onto the scene he was known for his ball carrying but over the years he has become  a playmaker and kicker as well.

“There’s no limit on how good Manu can become if he gets the right coaching.

“He has the all-round game to develop as far as Ma’a has done.”


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One thought on “Manu Tuilagi can turn into a playmaker like Ma’a Nonu

  1. josiah

    you want to compare manu to maa?! big mistake! You should be comparing him to SBW.
    By the next RWC, if players (especially opposing centres) haven’t developed a game to match SBW, then unfortunately the AB’s will be in the drivers seat to retain the trophy.
    SBW clearly surpassed maa this year in all aspects of his game. Besides, as centres get ever larger there will be less points of difference between them. But SBW jumps ahead with his unique regular offloading game – on top of his lethal running and defensive game.

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