English rugby may have known this for more than a week now, but Leicester Tigers officially announced on Friday that five players have left after a breakdown in contract negotiations – including Manu Tuilagi.
On one level, these are irreplaceable members of the Tigers squad, but on another more poignant level, this brings one of rugby’s greatest legacies to an end.
The Tuilagi name has been woven into the fabric of success at Leicester over the past two decades, but for the first time since the turn of the millennium, there will not be a member of the family in the squad.
The dynasty started in 2000 when Freddie Tuilagi switched codes following a short two years with St Helens. Success in the new code soon followed, the centre winning two Premiership titles and two Heineken Cups, starting on the wing in the 2002 final victory over Munster.
Tuilagi’s legacy in Leicester comes to an end pic.twitter.com/Aj6b8gsMrm
— #RugbyTigers (@RugbyTigers) July 10, 2020
Today is the first time in 20 years Leicester Tigers have not had a Tuilagi in the squad.
Sad day. Amazing legacy.
— Tigers Unofficial (@tigersunoffy) July 10, 2020
Three years into his stay at Welford Road, Freddie was joined by his brother Henry, who over the next four years would bring a level of brutality at No8 which would somehow make fellow professionals look like schoolboys at times.
Freddie left Leicester in 2004, but by now the revolving door of Tuilagis was set in motion and his exit saw the arrival of winger Alesana, who would only enhance the family’s reputation in England.
Most influential Tiger in the last 20 years? Mrs Tuilagi. Thanks for all the memories gents
— peter wilkinson (@1peterwilkinson) July 10, 2020
???The Tuilagis have now left the building and the coast is clear
— BathBytes (@BathBytes) July 5, 2020
Alesana Tuilagi would represent Leicester more than 100 times over the next eight years, winning three Premiership titles and starting in two losing Heineken Cup finals. He left Leicester in 2012, having been the top scorer in the league the season before.
He was also joined by brothers Andy and Vavae while at Welford Road, but their time at Leicester did not reach the heights that their brothers’ did.
This obviously leaves Manu as the final part of this fraternal legacy in the Midlands, who made his Premiership debut at the age of 19 in 2010. Over the past ten years he forged a reputation that precedes him.
The centre is distinguished from his brothers as he is an England international, having moved to Leicester at the age of 12, while the other five siblings represented Samoa.
That may have helped develop his reputation as a global force, but it is a legitimate claim that he is the best of all his brothers and has produced some performances across his career in which he has come as close as any player ever has to be literally unstoppable.
On top of that, the Tuilagi name has also been intergenerational as Freddie’s two sons, Brian and Fred, came through the Tigers academy and both will now play for London Scottish next season.
Not the news some Leicester fans wanted to hear https://t.co/HBa9iPpuFS
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 8, 2020
Few families have contributed to a team’s success in the same way the Tuilagis have and it is a sad day for Leicester to end their 20-year association with the family.
The most damaging thing for Steve Borthwick’s side is that this may not be the end of the family name in the Premiership, as Manu could be picked up by one of Tigers’ top-flight rivals.
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