In Depth

Rugby World Cup: Manu Tuilagi says ‘special’ England are raring to go

Centre won’t waste his chance of playing at the highest level again

2019 Rugby World Cup
  • When: 20 September to 2 November  
  • Where: 12 locations across Japan 
  • Teams: 20
  • Number of matches: 48
  • UK TV channel: live on ITV

The 2019 Rugby World Cup kicks off a week today in Japan with the hosts playing Russia in Tokyo.

England are in action two days later, taking on Tonga in pool C, and one of the tournament favourites are on the brink of something “special”, according to Manu Tuilagi.

The England centre believes the team is well poised to repeat the success of 2003 when they won the tournament in Australia. 

“We’re tighter than ever before, I definitely feel that,” said Tuilagi. “I’ve been in a lot of England squads but this is a different feeling… I think it’s something special within this group of players and I’m excited to see where we can take this team.”

Dark days

Tuilagi was a member of the 2011 RWC squad, a tournament mired in controversy on and off the pitch, and he failed to make the cut four years later after being dropped by Stuart Lancaster after he pleaded guilty to assaulting two female police officers.

But he’s got a third chance under Eddie Jones, and Tuilagi told the Daily Express he doesn’t intend to waste it. 

“It’s a massive honour to have the opportunity again to represent England at the highest competition in the world,” he said. 

“I’m just excited at the opportunity to try and make the most of it. I didn’t think I’d be here in this position again. I’ve been out with all the injuries so I’m just thankful that I’m still playing.”

Back to his best

A persistent groin injury has been at the centre of his troubles, and there were times when Tuilagi wondered if he would play serious rugby again. 

When he played in the Six Nations game against Ireland this year it was his first start in an England shirt in five years. 

“Between the 2011 World Cup and this one there were a lot of dark days,” he admitted. “At the time all I was thinking about was now, this very moment and playing. That’s what brought me through. I always thought of the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Scary

Tuilagi showed glimpses of his old self in last month’s emphatic World Cup warm-up wins against Wales and Ireland. 

After England had put a record 50 points past the Irish, head coach Jones warned: “Manu is only about 80% fit at the moment, we’ve still got a little bit left to go with him. But when he gets there he’ll be a handful. It will be scary if you have to mark him.”

That’s given hope to England fans that after two miserable tournaments this time around there could be something to finally cheer about. 

And Tuilagi says that memories of 2015, when England became the first tournament host to fail to reach the knockout phase, are the spur to the squad. 

“All their focus is on now and taking the learning experience from it and bringing it to this World Cup. We’ll be much better for it.”

England’s RWC pool C fixtures
  • 22 September: England vs. Tonga (11.15am; Sapporo Dome, Sapporo)  
  • 26 September: England vs. USA (11.45am; Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe) 
  • 5 October: England vs. Argentina (9am; Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)  
  • 12 October: England vs. France (9.15am; International Stadium, Yokohama)
Rugby World Cup guides

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