Tuilagi try heartens Leicester boss O'Connor


London (AFP)

Manu Tuilagi continued his return from injury with a try in a strong all-round display as Leicester beat Worcester 34-5 in the English Premiership on Sunday.

But Tigers coach Matt O'Connor said he was still some way short of being the player who had once "beaten the All Blacks on his own".

It is nearly two years exactly since powerhouse centre Tuilagi won the last of his 26 England caps, with the 26-year-old's career blighted by hamstring and groin problems among several injuries.

Yet for all his time on the sidelines, it is a testament to Tuilagi's physical presence and pace that his try-scoring role in England's remarkable 38-21 win over world champions New Zealand at Twickenham in 2012 remains so vivid in the minds of many Red Rose fans.

"Manu looked good and the longer the game went on, the better he became as there were a lot of strong carries in the last 20 minutes," said O'Connor as he reflected on Sunday's match.

"The more game time he has, the more he will benefit but I wouldn't say he was back to his best yet as he's the only bloke I've seen who's beaten the All Blacks on his own."

Victory left Leicester just three points off a top-four place, with only the leading quartet at the end of the regular season involved in the title-deciding play-offs.

In a clash that pitted Premiership champions Exeter against European kings Saracens, it was the domestic title-holders who came out on top with a 24-12 success.

Exeter fly-half Joe Simmonds, younger brother of England back-row Sam Simmonds, impressed by kicking four penalties and an assist for Phil Dollman's try.

Victory saw league leaders Exeter move seven points clear at the top with just five regular-season games left to play.

"I am pleased for the players," said Rob Baxter, the Exeter coach, after a home success at Sandy Park.

"They want to do well and perform well, and I thought the challenge of Saracens coming here really brought the best out of us."

Wasps went second with a 24-16 win over London Irish but the home side were given a huge scare when the bottom-of-the-table Exiles, seemingly destined for relegation, scored two late tries.

"It was very close," said Wasps boss Dai Young. "In all honesty I thought the best team lost, we were really poor. I suppose the big positive is we found a way to win but if a couple of their kicks had gone over it could've been a different story."

Sunday's other Premiership match saw Harlequins finally record their first league win of 2018 with a 20-5 victory at home to Bath.

In a fixture held over from Friday because of the freezing weather, Tim Visser and Kyle Sinckler both scored tries as London club Harlequins ended a four-game losing streak in the Premiership.

"There's some relief after what's gone on in the last two or three weeks where, for a variety of reasons, we haven't performed the way we want to," said Harlequins coach John Kingston.

"There's pride in the way that the guys have reacted to the adversity of the recent weeks."