OITA, Japan, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Manu Tuilagi says it is a big boost to have a fully-fit Henry Slade back for Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final against Australia as England line up with almost the same backline that clicked so well in their best performance of the year.
Slade missed all of England’s August warm-up games with a knee injury, and played only 40 minutes off the bench in the pool games in Japan, but he starts at 13 on Saturday, outside Tuilagi and with Owen Farrell back at flyhalf.
It is a combination not often used by coach Eddie Jones — usually because of injury restrictions and due to his recent preference for George Ford at 10 — but they played brilliantly together in England’s crushing 32-20 Six Nations win over Ireland in Dublin in February.
That was Tuilagi’s first Six Nations start for six years, while Slade capped probably his best game for England by scoring two tries.
“He can play, run, kick, he’s an all rounder, so for him to be in our backline adds a massive part to our game, especially with ‘Faz’ (Farrell) at 10,” Tuilagi said of his midfield partner after the side’s training run at a rain-lashed Oita Stadium on Friday.
“We’ve played together a couple of times before and though we haven’t done for a while, we understand each other well.”
Ben Youngs was scrumhalf in Dublin that day, as he is on Saturday, and in fact the only change to the backline to face Australia is the presence of Anthony Watson on the wing instead of Jack Nowell.
Youngs said he was equally comfortable playing with Ford, his Leicester clubmate, or Farrell, whom he has routinely linked up with for England.
“We are blessed to have two outstanding players fighting for one position and I think it brings out the best of both of them,” Youngs said. “It makes no difference to what I do — I’ve just got to make sure service is good.”
Youngs, one of only four of Saturday’s squad who played last time England reached the quarter-finals in 2011, said it was essential players hit the ground running after such a long build-up following the cancellation of the France game.
“My experience of that (2011) is just about making sure the intensity of the game doesn’t shock you in the beginning,” he said.
“France raced that day into a lead and we couldn’t pull ourselves back ... so it’s about making sure we come out of the blocks, bring that intensity from the start. “I’m sure they will be saying the same thing so I imagine the first 20 minutes will be pretty full-on.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford