He may be one of England’s key players leading into their World Cup opener against Tonga next week, but Manu Tuilagi says he is still Samoan at heart.
The blockbusting 28-year-old midfielder has been named in Eddie Jones’ 31-man squad for the global showpiece event in Japan and is set to play a key role as England search for their first world title since 2003.
A re-call into the national set-up after a turbulent period saw him make just five international appearances between June 2014 and November 2018, but his re-call into Jones’ side at the end of last year has seen Tuilagi blossom with the red rose on his chest.
He’s played in eight of England’s nine tests this year, and looks primed to be an integral figure for his country in the No. 13 jersey.
That hasn’t dented his pride ad passion he has for the nation of his birth, though.
Tuilagi was, of course, born and raised in Samoa until the age of 13, when he moved to the United Kingdom to join his five older brother, all of whom were playing for clubs throughout Europe.
In an extensive interview with The Daily Telegraph, the youngest Tuilagi revealed that while “England is very special to me, of course, but my heart and home is still Samoa.”
Manu, who is named after the Samoan national side, is the odd one out of his rugby-playing brothers, as Anitelea, Alesana, Henry and Freddie all opted to play for Manu Samoa rather than any of the European nations they spent time living in throughout their professional careers.
It’s highly unlikely England and Samoa will clash at this World Cup, with the likes of Ireland, Scotland and Japan making it difficult for the Pacific nation to qualify out of Pool A.
England, meanwhile, are one of the title favourites alongside New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa, and have been placed in what many consider to be the ‘Pool of Death’ with France, Argentina, Tonga and the USA.
With this World Cup being so open, much will be required of Tuilagi in order for England to fulfil their title-winning potential, especially after his personal experiences at the previous two World Cups.
In 2011, a number of off-field controversies – including Tuilagi’s dive off a ferry into Auckland Harbour, of which he was arrested for – further marred England’s dismal quarter-final exit, while he wasn’t even included in the ill-fated 2015 campaign after he was convicted for assault in the lead-up to that tournament.
It seems he has grown and matured since then, though, and after Jones’ leap of faith 10 months ago, Tuilagi is hoping to validate being handed another international lifeline.
“I’ve been given this opportunity and it is up to me to make the most of it and help England to try and win a World Cup. Everyone in Samoa will be watching. I am going to give it everything I’ve got.”
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