Manu Tuilagi has resolved to embrace the rebirth of his international career as he recalled the headline-grabbing aftermath of his first appearance against France.
Two years earlier, the Samoan-born midfield wrecking ball was starting out as a Test player and came up against France in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
England lost 19-12 and Tuilagi then added to their avalanche of woes at an ill-starred tournament by jumping from a ferry shortly before it docked, incurring a warning from Auckland police and a £3,000 fine.
A string of discrepancies subsequently followed, including a conviction for assaulting a police officer and making bunny ears behind Prime Minster David Cameron.
But after emerging from years of injury setbacks with a barnstorming display in the rout of Ireland, he reflected on how far he has come.
“That feels like a long time ago to be fair,” the British and Irish Lions tourist said.
“As you grow up you learn – you live and you learn. All the things that have happened, you make your bed and you’ve got to lie in it. That’s life.
“You learn and try to be better as a person. For me as a rugby player, to come back now and have a second opportunity to have a go at it…
“It’s about staying focused for that moment, to be present, not to look back or forward, just be here and enjoy this time.
“I remember the game against France at the World Cup. It was a good game. They got to the final in the end, fair play to them.
“We had most of the ball, we attacked really well, we started really well, especially in the first half, we just didn’t finish off our opportunities.
Serious groin, chest and knee injuries have resulted in a succession of aborted comebacks, but Tuilagi’s imposing carrying at the Aviva Stadium evoked memories of the 27-year-old at his most potent.
“I always had in my mind when I was injured that I’d be back playing, back on the pitch. That’s what got me going when I was inside doing my rehab,” he said.
“The boys were outside and I told myself I’d get back out there in the end. You have doubts because you are out of the game for a long time.
“But for me, I took it week by week when I came back, just to get everything right so I could train fully the week after and then be able to play on the weekend.
“It was good to get the win, but that was last weekend.
“This week we’re focused on France because we know what they’re going to bring – well, no one knows what they are going to bring. We’ve got to be ready for it. It’s harder because they are very unpredictable.”
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