Returning Manu Tuilagi could prove to be the Lions' super-sub in South Africa – Dawson


    Manu Tuilagi is set to make his comeback on Friday evening with Lions legend Matt Dawson convinced he will be on Warren Gatland’s watch list despite missing out on the original squad for South Africa.

    Tuilagi is pencilled in for his return from the Achilles injury that has kept him out since November against Bristol at the AJ Bell Stadium.

    And Dawson, the try-scoring hero of the First Test against the Springboks in 1997, is sure that Gatland will be closely scrutinising his performances over the coming weeks with the thought of jetting him over to South Africa as an injury super-sub.

    “There’s no question Warren will have his eyes on him,” said Dawson. “There will be some big names joining that tour who have missed out because, unfortunately, that is the nature of a Lions tour and Manu will be on the list.

    “He is unique. We will be lucky to have another player ever who is like Manu.

    “I wasn’t surprised he was left out initially because you can’t build a game plan around a player who isn’t 100 per cent fit.

    “But it’s very easy to get players down to South Africa. You can probably play within two or three days.

    “I would be amazed if that didn’t come into the equation when they made their selections.”

    Dawson’s tourists were the last Lions to win a series in South Africa but he has high hopes the class of ’21 can follow suit. His one reservation would be the restrictions they will tour under because of the pandemic.

    Twenty-four years ago, the squad spent plenty of their time socialising in bars, but this time it will feel as if they are behind bars.

    “I only had a handful of caps and it was my first senior tour. It was incredible,” said Dawson, who was promoting the Stay on Track campaign as a long-time patron of Bowel Cancer UK.

    “We would be out pretty much every night with some of the lads for dinner and we’d be getting up to train with the rest of the team with a hangover and having a laugh sharing the stories of how we got our hangovers.

    “After we’d won the first Test in Cape Town it was carnage. 

    “We had a little cordoned off area in Cantina Tequila and there must have been hundreds of Lions fans in there, going mad. 

    “There were waitresses with Tequila bottles in holsters throwing it down our necks. 

    “You can only imagine how messy it got the week after when we won the series in Durban.

    “The nights out created the atmosphere around the tour. You got to know people away from playing and training with them.

    “If the Lions are going to struggle against South Africa it potentially could be because they haven’t had the opportunity to bond like normal Lions tours do. I don’t think we can question the ability of the squad but bringing players together quickly is notoriously difficult.”

    Stay on Track, a campaign supported by Matt Dawson in partnership with Norgine and Bowel Cancer UK, aims to raise awareness of bowel cancer and the importance of screening, testing and early diagnosis. For more information:


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