Taking some time off mid-week before Leicester’s final league fixture against Bath this weekend, England centre Manu Tuilagi caught up with us at Puma Headquarters in London. The star was in town to promote Puma’s partnership with the RugbyRocks, the excellent festival event that takes place this summer in London (26-27th May), Yorkshire (15-17th June), Edinburgh (14th-15th July) and this summer will feature musical acts including Zane Lowe.
“It’s going to be really exciting, with plenty of rugby and music together and you can’t get better than that. Obviously there’s a massive party afterwards so it’s a real shame I won’t be there, but it’s a great group of occasions. It’ll be a lot of fun whether you are watching or playing so definitely get down there.”
Back to the day job and with Leicester currently smashing aside anyone who crosses them, Tuilagi is full of understated confidence. To have risen from 11th up to 2nd since October is a remarkable run, but the hard work regarding the playoffs is not over for them yet.
“Hopefully if we win this weekend we’ll get a home semi-final and we’ll get a week off with the Heineken Cup final next weekend. We’re treating this weekend as a quarter-final against Bath and that’s been the message all week in camp, to get into that knockout mentality.”
This record-breaking run of bonus point victories for Leicester has been rightly lauded by critics and fans, but it all was born out of frustration as Tuilagi reveals.
“After we went down and lost away to Exeter, we had a meeting between the players and were clear to ourselves that our performances weren’t good enough. Since that moment, we’ve trained harder and been driving each other along. When you look around you and you see your team-mates giving it everything they’ve got, that inspires you to work harder.”
Ask Tuilagi if he’s had any time off in the past 12 months, and the answer is a resounding no. From last season’s training ahead of the Rugby World Cup through to this year’s playoffs, there has been no let off for the young Tiger. Which is exactly how he likes it, not wanting to stop until he’s finished the season, ideally with some silverware. For that reason, missing the start of the Six Nations was not an enjoyable experience.
“It was frustrating being injured at the start, but Stuart Lancaster’s come in and done a fantastic job. When we look back, we realise that we could have won the Grand Slam had the Wales game gone differently. That’s encouraging for us as a young side.”
This summer with England will see Tuilagi link up with former international Mike Catt, a player who growing up he held huge admiration for. “Catty’s a legend. I’ve watched him so often playing with England and hopefully if I get selected it will be an honour to work with him. I’ve never been down to South Africa before to play but it’ll be great to get down there and face one of the best teams in the world.”
Before South Africa though there is a chance for Tuilagi to help send off his brother Alesana with another title. It will be new experience for Manu with his brother in Japan, but one that he is prepared for. “Playing for Leicester and England is a dream come true itself, but to win a first title would be special.
Obviously I’m going to miss Alesana as will the team, because off the pitch he’s a great guy. I’ll miss my nieces as well being over the other side of the world, but that’s life.” Over the coming months, there appears to be no slowing down for England’s superstar yet.
by Ben Coles
Manu Tuilagi launched Rugby Rocks Powered by PUMA in London 26-27 May, Yorkshire (15-17 June) and Edinburgh (14 –15 July) www.rugbyrocks7s.com