Published On: Thu, Sep 12th, 2019

Manu Tuilagi confident England have ‘something special’ as World Cup success in Japan eyed | Rugby | Sport

It is a long way to Japan and for Manu Tuilagi it was a journey he had almost given up on. He was coming round to the fact that Rugby World Cups just weren’t for him.

Fined by New Zealand police after jumping off a ferry into Auckland Harbour after England exited the ill-fated 2011 tournament, he was excluded from the 2015 World Cup squad after more trouble with the authorities.

Stuart Lancaster left him out after he pleaded guilty to assaulting two female police officers but he would have missed the World Cup anyway because of a groin problem – one of a series of injuries which bedevilled him during what his lowest period.  

So to come out the other side and find himself healthy, happy and preparing to take Japan 2019 by storm is a changeround that leaves him almost pinching himself.

“For me it’s a massive honour to have the opportunity again to represent England at the highest competition in the world. I’m just excited at the opportunity to try and make the most of it,” said Tuilagi.

“I didn’t think I’d be here in this position again. I’ve been out with all the injuries so I’m just thankful that I’m still playing.

“Between the 2011 World Cup and this one there were a lot of dark days. At the time all I was thinking about was now, this very moment and playing.

“That’s what brought me through. I always thought of the light at the end of the tunnel.

“To just be able to go out and train and then do what I love on the weekend, for me that’s the main thing.

“It’s a massive step in terms of trying to get back and play well but for me what is so exciting is to be around the players that we have.

“I think it’s something special within this group of players and I’m excited to see where we can take this team.”

The resurrection of Tuilagi who, between the end of the 2013 Six Nations and the beginning of this year’s tournament started just three Tests for England, is a golden bonus for Eddie Jones.

The pinball machine impression against Wales and the try against Ireland in the summer warm-ups showed the Leicester centre on the rampage again.

Had he been on board four years ago who knows how differently England’s disastrous home tournament might have turned out.

“I watched it at home,” he said. “I felt for the boys in 2015 but for most of the boys that were there that is long gone.

“They’ve moved on and all their focus is on now and taking the learning experience from it and bringing it to this World Cup. We’ll be much better for it.” 

A father now to 16-month-old daughter Leilani – which translates as ‘heavenly flower’ – and surrogate dad to he and partner Chantelle’s Hungarian Vizsla hound Elvis, Tuilagi is a more mature figure than the one who courted trouble in the past. At 28, he should be coming to his rugby prime. 

But after so many setbacks he is wary. Whenever he mentions his state of fitness he makes a point of touching wood. 

There is no Ben Te’o in the squad so Tuilagi is the only heavy-duty ball carrier in the England midfield. That makes him precious cargo.

Jones – and many more besides – will be offering up a prayer that Tuilagi stays in one piece for the duration of the tournament and that he finally has a World Cup to remember. 

How far can he and England go in Japan? If unity counts for anything, they have a shot.

“We’re tighter than ever before. I definitely feel that. I’ve been in a lot of England squads but this is a different feeling. It’s special,” he said.

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