World Cup winner Faf de Klerk has hailed Manu Tuilagi’s impact at Sale Sharks as he prepares to make his debut for them.
England centre Tuilagi is set to line up in Sale’s midfield when the Gallagher Premiership resumes on Friday.
Sale’s trip to Harlequins will be the first Premiership fixture for 159 days after the coronavirus pandemic brought the competition to a halt.
And it gives the Sharks an immediate chance to showcase their latest big-name signing, who moved from Premiership rivals Leicester last month.
“All the things that have been said about Manu are absolutely true,” Sale and South Africa scrum-half de Klerk said.
“A guy like that, you have only previously played against him, and while you know he has got a great reputation, you never know how he is going to filter into a squad.
“But he has been absolutely great, and I have been very impressed with him.
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“The way he has trained, he just sets the standard really high and drives us to be better.
“Everyone in the squad knows they need to perform every week to keep their spot, and that just lifts the whole training environment. It has been great these last few weeks.”
De Klerk, who returned to action from a knee injury just before the Premiership was suspended in March, is excited about Sale’s prospects.
It is 14 years since the club last lifted Premiership silverware, a time when they were inspired by players like Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal.
But they will restart the Premiership in second place with nine regular season games left, just five points behind title favourites Exeter.
“We can’t wait to get out there,” added de Klerk, who features in a giant portrait on the Twickenham pitch with Maro Itoje and Joe Marler to mark the Premiership’s return.
The artwork, which occupies most of the 7,000 square metre pitch and is thought to be the largest outdoor painting created in the United Kingdom, took eight artists more than 24 hours to complete and over 100 hours of planning.
“I have only played about 20 minutes this whole year because of injury, so I can’t wait to get back,” said de Klerk.
“It is a big game for us on Friday, and they are big games for everyone coming back.
“We are in a great spot, and we have spoken about it as a squad, but it’s almost the start of a new season again and we need to perform.
“It’s not going to be a case of just pitching up. We’ve got a few great signings, but that is not going to help us at all if we don’t play together as a team and work hard.
“There has been a lot of chat about that. Any win in the Premiership is special, so we are really going to push for this game on Friday.
“The boys are mentally ready to pitch up and really give a good performance.”
The Premiership will return behind closed doors, a new experience for most players as English rugby’s blue riband prepares for its resumption.
De Klerk added: “When I was playing at under-19 and under-21 levels, you would sometimes play in big stadiums and there weren’t really any crowds, and it was only your parents watching!
“We wouldn’t be used to it at all, but it shouldn’t change the way we play and approach a game.
“It is going to be a different challenge, but there are people in much worse situations than us, so we just need to crack on and put on a good spectacle for the people watching at home.”