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Manu Tuilagi is getting ready for his final match with the England rugby team, wearing his famous smile as he does so.
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Manu Tuilagi is getting ready for his final match with the England rugby team, wearing his famous smile as he does so.


Manu Tuilagi has undergone significant changes since his debut for England in 2011. He has faced numerous injuries and spent countless hours on the treatment table, which has affected his body. At 20 years old, he was seen as the future of English rugby and had the potential to achieve remarkable feats as a member of the team. Now, he has matured into a wise and experienced member of Steve Borthwick’s squad. But amidst all these changes, Tuilagi’s characteristic smile remains unchanged.

In anticipation of his 60th and last game with England on Saturday, Tuilagi may have a number of frustrations. If he hadn’t faced so many injuries, some of which he caused by hiding them in order to keep playing, he likely would have played 100 games. He has also faced disciplinary issues, leading to his exclusion from the 2015 World Cup on home soil. Early on in his time with England, he gained notoriety for jumping off a ferry into Auckland harbour.

Tuilagi seems to not have any regrets. It is uncertain if he is even familiar with the word, as he playfully avoids discussing his potential move to the Top 14 league in France. As he reflects on a past incident in 2011, he breaks into a near hysterical laughter. He believes that life should be enjoyed and advises young players in his position to do the same. He suggests that players should make the most of their opportunities to play the game they love and be grateful for the people around them who they can learn from and support each other.

Tuilagi’s career is closely associated with New Zealand. In 2012, at Twickenham, he made a splash on the rugby scene during a match against the All Blacks, flashing his signature grin while they performed the haka. Tuilagi reflected on the moment a few years ago, and in 2019, he played a crucial role in England’s World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand.

It is performances such as those that explain why Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones would never give up on Tuilagi. Lancaster was once asked what the biggest thing England had missed after one of their second-placed Six Nations finishes during his tenure and his one-word response was telling: “Manu”. He played only twice in Jones’s first three years as head coach but found fitness in 2019, signposting his World Cup form with a destructive performance in a warmup match against Ireland at Twickenham.

Tuilagi states that being injured for an extended period of time can be seen as either negative or positive. Although there are moments where it feels daunting, he always reflects on his passion for the game and finds motivation to continue. He considers himself fortunate to be able to pursue his love for the sport and is grateful for each day. Tuilagi acknowledges the highs and lows in life, and believes it adds to the exhilaration of living.

Manu Tuilagi sprints clear to score his second try against Fiji at Twickenham in November 2012.

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During Saturday’s game, the rugby player sustained a groin injury, which was his first time playing since December. Prior to that, he had broken his hand twice during the World Cup in France the previous year. Reflecting on the experience, he recalls asking the doctor if he could continue playing despite his injury, to which the doctor left the decision up to him. The rugby player, determined to play, pushed through the pain and considers it just a part of being an athlete. Even when his children cry from experiencing pain, he reminds them that it is temporary and something they can overcome.

Under the guidance of Jones, Tuilagi blossomed into a nurturing presence within the team and, according to those who have played alongside him in recent times, the affection they hold for him is both sincere and plentiful. This is a testament to his personal growth since his initial call-up – “I recall being the youngest one there and feeling incredibly nervous. When I first arrived, Jonny Wilkinson greeted me and introduced himself. He said, ‘Pleased to meet you Manu.’ I was taken aback!” Now, Jamie George plans to have Tuilagi give a speech to his fellow teammates before the final Six Nations match against France.

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George recalls a time when he spoke about the immense joy and love he feels while playing for England and how it reflects in his smile. He also mentions that whenever he speaks, people pay attention and it often leads to thoughtful insights.

What stands out for Tuilagi when playing for England? “It’s the chance to play for England, not just once, but multiple times.” He wants to inspire his younger teammates to cherish the experience of representing their country: “You never know when it could be your last.”

While talking, the drapes unexpectedly fall on the backdrop behind the individual who is 32 years old. He comments, “I believe that’s our signal,” acknowledging the symbolism of the situation.

Source: theguardian.com