Manu Tuilagi savours his England return in front of his seven-month-old daughter after ending his injury hell

'It felt like it was my first cap. I was nervous, very nervous, just to get back out there. I didn’t know what it was like – I had forgotten what it was like'

Jack de Menezes@JackdeMenezes
Sunday 25 November 2018 22:00
Eddie Jones praises England side after win over Australia

The 68th minute of England’s victory over Australia will be one that lives long in the memory of Manu Tuilagi, given that it ended his two-and-a-half-year injury nightmare in one single moment.

And what a moment it was.

“I just wanted to get on,” a beaming Tuilagi said after collecting his 27th England cap in the 37-18 victory over Australia on Saturday. “I was standing there and TT, our S&C guy, was like ‘keep warm, Eddie might say you are on at any time.’ So I was there for five minutes running up and down and I just wanted to get on and it was amazing, the atmosphere was unbelievable.

“It felt like it was my first cap. I was nervous, very nervous to get back out there. I didn’t know what it was like – I had forgotten what it was like, what the day is like, it has been a long time. But I loved it.”

The noise created by the 81,275 inside Twickenham to greet Tuilagi’s return to international rugby was just as loud, if not louder, than any of the four tries England scored on Saturday.

But there were a select few of those in attendance in particular that the 27-year-old cared most about, with his seven-month-old daughter Leilani joining the rest of his family in watching him pull on the red rose once again.

“It was very special. It was the first time my daughter has come to Twickenham and watched the England game. She is seven months, they were in the box and it was a bit loud for her outside but it is nice to see her.

“It was nice to be back, it has been a long time so I enjoyed every minute of it. The whole process, coming to the ground, on the bus, it is an amazing atmosphere. But the most important thing is that we got the win and just to be a part of that, a part of that good performance, that is what it is all about. The boys are happy.”

Unfortunately there is not another international next week. For Tuilagi, it is back to the daily grind, back to Leicester Tigers and back to his constant battle to remain fit enough to resurrect his England career.

But by all accounts, the England camp is a delighted one to have Tuilagi back in the fold.

Manu Tuilagi made his return for England after two and a half years

“We know he can play Test rugby. He has finally got back on the field and he gives everyone a lot of confidence,” said head coach Eddie Jones. “You could hear the crowd when he came on – he’s like the local hero, isn’t he?

“I just think they (his teammates) like playing with him. He’s got something. He looks like a heavyweight boxer. He’s got a bit of footwork, he carries hard – players like playing with those sort of guys and they’ll go to the well for them.”

Jones has been the first one to stress that people should not get carried away with Tuilagi’s return, given the agonising run of injuries that he has endured. Constant setbacks due to shoulder, groin and knee injuries meant that he missed the bulk of the 2016/17 season, while large periods of 2017/18 were also spoiled by repeated knocks, niggles and surgeries.

Tuilagi celebrates with Owen Farrell after scoring England's fourth try

So with 2019 on the horizon, there is one clear aim on Tuilagi’s radar, especially given that the threat of suffering yet another injury constantly plays on his mind.

“Stay fit,” he noted. “Obviously with the Premiership with Tigers, if all goes well, we’ve got the Premiership, Heineken Cup, Six Nations, World Cup. Our goal is to win through that and to do that you have to be fit and keep going with the game plan, what we’re doing at Tigers and what we do here.

“I was nervous throughout the whole thing, the team run. We had a massive session on Wednesday and that was the session that if I got through that, because it was contact and a fast game, if I got through that I would be all right for the game and thank God I got through it.

Tuilagi took to the field in front of his seven-month-old daughter Leilani

“We still had the team run (on Friday), we still had the warm up (Saturday) morning. All the stuff goes through your head.

“This group has been together a long time, probably longer than the one we had in 2011. It is very exciting. There are still young boys in this team to take that forward. Take the learning from this game. Even though we won, there are still a lot of lessons we can take from this, moving forward to the next time we come together.”

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