Manu Tuilagi is poised to ‘run over’ opponents when Premiership Rugby returns with a bang tonight.
Sale’s heavyweight lockdown signing makes his Sharks debut at Harlequins as the English top flight resumes behind closed doors after 159 days and 21 blank weekends.
With nine of the 22 regular season rounds still to play Steve Diamond’s team trail leaders Exeter by just five points.
And from what he has already seen from his star recruit, Sale's no-nonsense boss has no doubt Tuilagi will take his new club to another level.
“Manu is the ultimate pro,” said Diamond, who pairs the England star with Sam Hill in an all-new midfield at The Stoop. “He’s been error-free through the last three weeks of training.
“In all my time here the only person who trained the way he trains was Jason Robinson. People go: 'Bloody hell, how has he done that?!’”
With matches against top-five rivals Chiefs, Bristol and Wasps in their first four games, Sale know they must hit start fast. Hence no time wasted harnessing Tuilagi’s immense power.
“Manu turned up in incredible condition and I have seen a steeliness around him that is second to none,” Diamond continued.
“What Manu, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Sam Hill and Sam James bring in the centres is a combination of power and skill.
“We’re going to run over people. The basis of our game is momentum and people like Manu give you momentum.”
When Tuilagi left Leicester last month refusing to accept a 25 per cent pay cut it seemed he would be lost to both the Premiership and England team.
But Sale swooped, reckoning they would recoup much of the financial outlay through increased brand awareness.
Early days but Diamond says, "I am getting asked more rugby questions on a night out now than I ever did before - and we have seen an exponential increase in people wanting to be involved.
"So yeah, what he brings off the field is massive for us.”
Diamond knows that even if his injury-prone centre stays fit he will be away on international duty for half the year. But here too he has done his sums.
“Manu will be available for us next year, I reckon, for 13 to 14 games,” he said.
“If we get him playing 14 games then he has made the right decision leaving Leicester and I have made the right decision bringing him in.
“He will go on the Lions tour and we will re-sign him for another three years. The ball is 100 per cent in his court and he will deliver.”
Sale hammered Quins 48-10 in January with one of their six try scorers Chris Ashton, who makes his debut for the Londoners tonight.
“On balance it was the right decision for Chris to leave,” said Diamond of the England wing’s abrupt departure over a disagreement on playing style.
“But wherever Chris goes he makes an instant impact so we will prepare for that.”
GUIDE TO PREMIERSHIP RUGBY RESTART
Sixth in the league, within touching distance of the top-four, Bath have recruited England scrum-half Ben Spencer to replace Chris Cook, as well as Leicester lock Will Spencer. They will doubtless back themselves to make post-season but remain infuriatingly inconsistent given the depth of talent at their disposal. Play-off prospects: Moderate. Last match: Lost 20-57 Exeter (Mar 7). Notable signings: Ben Spencer, Will Spencer.
Third in Premiership, seven points off leaders Exeter, Bristol have added England prop Kyle Sinckler and Fiji midfield magician Semi Radradra to their start-studded squad during lockdown and play Chiefs and second-placed Sale in two of their first four games. Play-off prospects: High. Last match: Won 28-15 Harlequins (Mar 8). Notable signings: Sinckler, Radradra, Chris Cook, Ben Earl (season-long loan).
Top of the table and bidding for a fifth straight Premiership final, Chiefs are undoubtedly the team to beat. However playing second and third, Sale and Bristol, in two of their first three games back means there is no room for complacency. Play-off prospects: High. Last match: Won 57-20 Bath (Mar 7). Notable signings: Jonny Gray, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Josh Hodge.
All change at Kingsholm where rookie head coach George Skivington has taken charge with a new backroom team hoping to arrest team’s slide from semi-finalists last season to ninth placed also-rans. The return of England star Jonny May is guaranteed to raise standards as well as morale. Play-off prospects: Low. Last match: Lost 22-39 Wasps (Mar 7). Notable signings: Jonny May, Matt Garvey, Logovi’i Mulipola.
Seventh in Prem, seven points off a top-four play-off place, Quins have a decent shot at the post-season. But they need consistency and they haven’t had that for a good while. Chris Ashton has arrived to replace lost firepower of Agen-bound Gaby Ibitoye. Play-off prospects: Moderate. Last match: Lost 15-28 Bristol (Mar 8). Notable signings: Ashton, Andre Esterhuizen, Wilco Louw, Joe Gray (Saracens).
Steve Borthwick has left England set-up to take charge of Tigers and Eddie Jones’ long-time chief lieutenant has a job on his hands. England’s biggest club have been in freefall for a while now and the loss of Manu Tuilagi won’t help. Bottom but one, turning this around won’t happen overnight. Play-off prospects: None. Last match: Lost 13-24 Saracens (Mar 7). Notable signings: Zach Henry, Nemani Nadolo, Matt Scott.
Eighth in the table and without a ground, but recruitment of Argentina hooker Agustin Creevy and 100-cap Australia lock Rob Simmons has put a spring in Irish’s step ahead of the club’s return to London to share Brentford FC’s new stadium next season. Play-off prospects: Low. Last match: Lost 0-39 Sale (Mar 6). Notable signings: Creevy, Simmons, Sean O’Brien.
With three of their last four games against the clubs above them (Exeter, Sale and Bristol), fourth-placed Saints will have a big say in how this season pans out. They have lost the influential scrum-half Cobus Reinach but snapped up on loan England forward Nick Isiekwe from Saracens. Play-off prospects: High. Last match: Won 16-10 Worcester (Mar 6). Notable signing: Isiekwe (loan).
The arrival of Manu Tuilagi has second-placed Sale bouncing ahead of Friday night’s resumption at Quins. With Tom Curry and World Cup winners Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager already in situ, Sharks have the firepower and play Exeter and Bristol in two of their first three outings. Play-off prospects: High. Last match: Won 39-0 London Irish (Mar 6). Notable signings: Tuilagi, Sam Hill.
Champions and share with Exeter with best won-lost record this season but while Chiefs are top the Londoners are bottom, condemned to relegation for salary cap breaches. A number of players have left the club but their A-listers remain, ensuring no side will fancy playing them. Play-off prospects: None. Last match: Won 24-13 Leicester (Mar 7).
Four wins from five before lockdown have thrust fifth-placed Wasps firmly into the play-off mix and, despite loss of Nizaam Carr and Ashley Johnson, new boss Lee Blackett has kept his England stars at the club with new deals for Joe Launchbury, Dan Robson, Brad Shields and Jack Willis. Play-off prospects: High. Last match: Won 39-22 Gloucester (Mar 7).
With only four league wins before lockdown and Saracens already condemned to relegation, 10th placed Worcester have little to play for in remainder of season, but new captain Ted Hill will demand better. The progress made by Michael Fatialofa in recovering from a serious neck injury has been best news story out of Sixways thus far. Play-off prospects: None. Last match: Lost 10-16 Northampton (Mar 6). Notable signings: Matt Kvesic, Billy Searle.