Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Tuilagi's dramatic rise to the top for England

Manu Tuilagi of England. Photo / Getty Images
Manu Tuilagi of England. Photo / Getty Images

One of England's best players in their historic defeat of the All Blacks at Twickenham this morning was born in the village of Moto'otua, Samoa.

Manu Tuilagi, the Leicester and England centre, was outstanding in the 38-21 victory. Such was his dominance, he outshone two of the men tasked with marking him - Dan Carter and Ma'a Nonu - and in fact made the pair, both world-class players, look a little ordinary at times. He scored two converted tries and set up Chris Ashton and Brad Barritt for others.

The first many New Zealanders knew of the 21-year-old was in last year's World Cup. The tournament had an unhappy ending for him - he was fined by team management for jumping from a ferry into the Waitemata Harbour after a day out on Waiheke Island - but he was one of the few among the English who emerged from the World Cup with their on-field reputations enhanced.

He brought new meaning to the word "direct" - both on offence and defence - and was a rare jewel for England; he was a back wearing white worth watching.

After the World Cup, in the bowels of Eden Park, following England's World Cup quarter-final loss to France, Tuilagi, then 20 and the youngest player to represent England at the global tournament, spoke of going back to Leicester and continuing his progress.

"It means everything [playing for England], just knowing that everyone's behind you and supporting you - all of England and all the Samoan people as well," he said of playing in front of his many supporters. "Thank you to all of them for the awesome support."

Tuilagi speaks with an English accent because he moved to the country as a 13-year-old. He is one of seven brothers, six of whom are rugby players. Henry, Freddie, Alesana, Anitelea and Sanele are Manu's elders in the Tuilagi family and all have played for Samoa.

They are a remarkable sporting family but the young Tuilagi's ascent to the top has probably been the most dramatic. Two years ago he was at the risk of being deported because he had entered England on a six-month tourist visa and had stayed on.

As a 19-year-old the Home Office wanted him out before making a U-turn after a plea from his Leicester Tigers club and thousands of people who signed a petition.

He said then after receiving the good news: "I always wanted to stay in Leicester. I went to school in this area and my friends are here.

"It is a big day for me to be told this good news and now I can concentrate on my rugby career with Leicester Tigers."

Now he is the toast of England for putting the world champions to the sword.

- APNZ

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