Anthony Watson and Manu Tuilagi will be part of England’s World Cup glory bid on Saturday after their triumphs over prolonged injury adversity. Bath wing Watson was in tears after the semi-final victory over New Zealand as the magnitude of what he had achieved began to sink in.
He returned to action earlier this year after 13 months’ sidelined due to a ruptured Achilles tendon that twice required surgery. And Leicester centre Tuilagi only played in two England Tests between 2014 and 2019 due to an injury catalogue that included a chronic groin problem.
“I have tried lying and saying that my eye was bleeding, but not too many people believed me,” said Watson, of those post-match images. “I don’t know what it was, to be fair. After the 13 months that I had – this time last year I couldn’t lift my heel off the floor, I could barely walk without a limp – I was very appreciative for the moment that I had there and then.
“It was actually quite ironic that the one person who knew why I was particularly upset or emotional in that moment was actually Manu, who has been through exactly – if not worse – situations. To have someone there with the experience and the skill like Manu was very comforting as well.
“There were two or three very dark days, considering whether I would ever again be able to run at the same speed, change direction and stuff like that. Those days were very tough. I was lucky that I had a very strong support group around me of friends and family.
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“Kyle Sinckler (England prop) is someone who I spoke to regularly about my mindset throughout the injury, and he helped me loads. The physios have been world-class. Bob Stewart (England physiotherapist) took great care of me even when I wasn’t in the set-up. He was texting me on a regular basis, seeing what I was doing, bouncing ideas.”
It has been a similar tale for Tuilagi, with both players having excelled during a tournament that reaches its climax this weekend when England face South Africa in Yokohama. Tuilagi said: “I feel very blessed to be here and to be able to get this opportunity to play in another World Cup.
“To be here now, the opportunity to get involved in the final, I never dreamt of it – it was beyond my dreams. For me, I am just thankful to God for his guidance that has got us here where we are today.”
England will go into the final as firm favourites following their stunning success against New Zealand, but they know that another huge performance is required. “The guys that we have got like Owen (Farrell), Mako (Vunipola), Maro (Itoje) as leaders, they won’t be comfortable with any kind of complacency, so we have to make sure we back it up this weekend,” Watson added.
“They (South Africa) are a tough side, physical big men. We are going to have to take it to them on Saturday. We cannot wait for them to bring it to us. If we do that, then it will be a long day in the office.”
– Press Association
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