Tuilagi can 'get back to his best' says Ford
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: England flyhalf George Ford insisted he had been "nothing but impressed" with Manu Tuilagi as the powerhouse Leicester centre prepares for his return to Premiership action.
Tuilagi is set to make his first appearance in English Rugby Union's top flight since being sidelined by a knee injury in January when he faces Ford's former club Bath in Leicester's league season-opener on Sunday.
Both Tuilagi and Sale wing Denny Solomona were sent home from an England training camp last month for what the Rugby Football Union labelled "team culture issues".
Subsequent reports in the British press said the pair had been disciplined after returning drunk following a late night out.
Tuilagi's indiscretion came just days after England coach Eddie Jones said the midfielder, who has played Test rugby just once in the past three years because of a variety of injury problems, was worth persevering with as the Australian cited his try-scoring performance during a 38-21 win over world champions New Zealand at Twickenham in 2012.
And Ford, now back at Leicester - the club where he launched his career - was convinced Tuilagi could hit those heights again.
"I have been nothing but impressed with Manu around the club," Ford said.
"He is in good spirits. He just wants to play. He wants to train each week, play at the weekend and we will see the best of him I am sure.
"I genuinely believe he can [get back to his best]. He looks in good shape and is training consistently on the field, and I could not be more impressed with the lines he has been running in attack, his communication and what he was doing defensively.
"I want him outside of me, that's for sure. We want to give Manu the ball one-on-one if we can, or give him ball when he has space to run at someone."
Tuilagi has a chequered disciplinary history, with a record including a conviction for assault and a five-week ban for punching England wing Chris Ashton.
He also had to issue an apology after being caught making 'bunny ears' behind the back of former British Prime Minister David Cameron during a Downing Street photo-call in 2013.
Tuilagi was also fined for jumping off a ferry into Auckland Bay after England exited the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.