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'I've never been so nervous in my life': What really spooked Tuilagi before his Sale return

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

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Fit-again Manu Tuilagi has revealed that his previous turmoil with serious injury had him mentally steeled to better cope with the duress of his latest lengthy layoff from the game caused by last September achilles damage when playing for Sale at Northampton.


The popular England midfielder finally made a successful comeback last weekend following eight months on the sidelines, coming on in the second half of Sale’s stirring Gallagher Premiership win over the table-topping Bristol.

With Sale trailing 0-5, Tuilagi made a 48th-minute appearance off the bench for Connor Doherty and he played an important role in seeing that five-point losing margin transformed into a rousing 22-12 win with two rounds of regular-season matches left. 

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The Premiership Rugby website credited Tuilagi with a twelve-metre gain from his three carries and a pair of tackles –  and the amazing feeling this activity generated in him was something he has now spoken about at length on the latest Rugby Pod, the 30-year-old enjoying himself in the company of show co-hosts Andy Goode and Jim Hamilton, a duo he knows from before he even made the breakthrough way back at Leicester.     

Reflecting on last Friday night’s first run at the AJ Bell since last September, Tuilagi told the Pod: “Being back was amazing for me. Just to be out there with the boys, even on the training field with them, I’d been watching them for the last six, seven months, the way the boys have been playing, to finally be able to join them and help them, it was massive. 

“I feel very blessed to be back playing again. Having a lot of injuries has helped me a lot mentally. In the past, I couldn’t handle it, especially early on in my career which probably contributed to the bad things that happened in my career off the field. But this time, having that experience, I just tried to stay positive. Whatever was going to happen will happen and I’m a massive believer everything happens for a reason, so for me just getting back was an amazing feeling.”


One of the most unusual aspects of the Tuilagi rehabilitation at Sale was the early March revelation that the gigantic powerhouse had taken up salsa dancing, an activity that he enjoyed until he had to show his new moves in front of Alex Sanderson’s entire Sharks squad. 

“It was tough, the achilles. I couldn’t believe it when it happened, to be told your achilles is ruptured. But the guys at Sale, Nav (Navdeep Singh Sandhu) the physio who has been rehabbing my achilles has been amazing. He is a genius. We had all sorts of stuff. The salsa, the hiking in the Peak district just to get a strong walk in before I run, making sure I walked 20km or 30km in a week before I came back running again.

“My salsa was the last one just to get me moving without thinking about it too much. In the salsa you are always on your toes, it works the calves instead of standing still in the gym and doing hundreds of calf raises. One of the guys, his missus teaches salsa so Charlotte came in and fair play to her. 

“I’d done the first lesson and came home and I’d a guy who I send my dog to who rang me to update me on my dog. He was, ‘How is salsa going?‘ I was, ‘How the f*** do you know that? I’ve just had one lesson’. Apparently, it said on social media that Alex Sanderson has done an interview and had told everyone and told everyone as well that I would be doing a dance for the boys. After five or six weeks I had to do a performance for the boys. I have never been so nervous in my life but it was good to cheer the boys up.”




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