Lions tour: Manu Tuilagi ‘would play back row’

Leicester's Manu Tuilagi gave some candid views during a British and Irish Lions press conference. Picture: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Leicester's Manu Tuilagi gave some candid views during a British and Irish Lions press conference. Picture: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
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Manu Tuilagi has echoed Brian O’Driscoll’s sentiment that he would play in any position if it resulted in his selection for the British and Irish Lions Test team.

The 37-man Lions squad landed in Hong Kong yesterday in advance of Saturday’s clash with the Barbarians, which launches a ten-fixture itinerary that continues in Australia and climaxes with a series against the Wallabies.

Tuilagi and O’Driscoll are two of four centres to have been selected, with Wales duo Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies also travelling.

It will be O’Driscoll’s fourth tour, but earlier this week he stated he would be happy to play anywhere if it aided the Lions’ cause and Tuilagi has adopted a similar mindset.

“I’d play back row if I had to! Just being with the Lions is a huge honour. If you get the opportunity to play anywhere you don’t turn it down,” the England centre said. “The talent we have in the squad is massive. I came in on Sunday and watched training. It looked really sharp and that’s the level we have to be at. We’ll have to be on our game the whole time to get a place in the team. It will be hard and a massive challenge.”

Tuilagi was one of the 16 late arrivals into the Lions camp due to his involvement in Leicester’s victory over Northampton in the Aviva Premiership final on Saturday. The Leinster and Ulster players who locked horns in the RaboDirect PRO12’s equivalent that same day also linked up with the touring party over the weekend.

“The squad’s been in camp for two weeks so those of us who came down on Sunday have been getting up to speed,” Tigers wrecking ball Tuilagi said.

“We had a sit down with Owen Farrell and Jamie Roberts, who told us what we need to know. For the boys who have just come down we need to be ready for the first game which we are available for.”

Tuilagi, who was born in Samoa, expects to be well supported in Australia.

“My dad always talked about the Lions. Growing up he loved them and leading up to this year he always asked ‘when are the Lions being picked?’. I told him ‘dad, it’s not this year it’s next year!” he said.

“When I found out I was involved I couldn’t wait to ring him and tell him. My mum and dad are going to come to Australia. The whole family will be there.

“There will be a lot of Samoan and Tongan people there too, so it will be great.”

‘Best should have been first choice’

IRELAND acting head coach Les Kiss and captain Peter O’Mahony yesterday welcomed Rory Best’s call-up by the British and Irish Lions, but claimed he should have been in the original squad.

Best was the biggest name omission when the 37-man touring party for Hong Kong and Australia was announced on 30 April, with the Ulster hooker losing out to England’s Dylan Hartley. But a twist of fate has given the 30-year-old his chance after Hartley was banned for 11 weeks for abusing referee Wayne Barnes during Northampton’s Aviva Premiership defeat by Leicester on Saturday, resulting in his exclusion from the Lions.

Kiss, speaking in advance of Ireland’s two-Test tour of North America, which departs Dublin on Saturday, saluted Best as a worthy Lion whose presence will concern Australia.

“It’s something that all of us in this island thought was deserved in the first place, but that’s the way it happens in selection sometimes,” the Australian said.

“We’re extremely happy for what Rory’s got. It’s great reward for everything he’s done over the last four years. He’s been immense for Ulster and Ireland. I know that he’s the type of player Australia will hate to play against.”

Best was to have led Ireland’s tour to North America and O’Mahony will now fill that role.