Tuilagi: “Impose our game on them.”

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By Creative Media News

From England’s 2012 triumph over New Zealand at Twickenham, many details stand out, but Manu Tuilagi is the one that stands out the most. The flicked offload for Brad Barritt’s try, the thunderous burst, bouncing off Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, to set up Chris Ashton, and the interception of Kieran Read’s pass for his intercept try – Tuilagi was a force that day.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect, however, is the enormous grin on his face as the All Blacks complete the haka; the pure, unadulterated joy he feels from what he has just seen and what he is about to do. A brief moment of peace before he unleashed his signature brand of chaos.

Ten years later, while sitting in England’s opulent hotel in leafy Surrey, the match’s highlights are shown to Tuilagi. Even though he has witnessed them numerous times before – it is, after all, England’s largest victory over New Zealand – he cannot help but laugh. The way he laughs when Barritt and Ashton’s score demonstrates that his happiness has not diminished.

Tuilagi: "impose our game on them. "
Tuilagi: "impose our game on them. "

“One of the best games in which I participated. I enjoy viewing it.” It is hard to believe that the match occurred a decade ago and that Tuilagi was only 21 years old but had already earned his 17th cap. “I was so young at the time,” he recalls, adding, “but I remember it as if it were yesterday.”

Facing the All Blacks brings out the best in Tuilagi, as seven years later, after a series of injuries that would have ended most international careers, he was in Yokohama scoring England’s try in their World Cup semi-final victory over the All Blacks and disrupting their defensive structure throughout.

Since 2003, England has defeated New Zealand twice, and Tuilagi has been instrumental in both victories. If England is to repeat the feat on Saturday, his involvement will likely be crucial. “Only you know the sincerity of your conviction, and you must have it,” he says. “I am certain that the boys will this weekend.”

Tuilagi has just completed viewing the highlight reel, and what strikes him the most is how, back then, he was a person who relied on instinct. Stuart Lancaster, the head coach at the time, was likely pleased that Tuilagi embraced the chaos, but he has since learned to appreciate his role within the larger structure.

Impose our game
Tuilagi: "impose our game on them. "

“I understand the game significantly better. As a young man, I believe I relied a bit more on instinct, which is natural, but I now comprehend the game plan and my role in its execution. However, the game’s appeal has not changed.”

Tuliagi recalls that before the 2012 match, nobody gave England a chance. They had beaten Fiji easily but then lost to Australia and South Africa, so their preparations for facing an unbeaten All Blacks side in 21 matches centered on instilling confidence in the squad. It was the same three years ago when Eddie Jones famously cut a kiwi in half with a samurai sword and having the “conviction” that Tuilagi mentions will be crucial again on Saturday.

“That week [in 2012] we just discussed belief, and I believe that word is enormous. “You must believe in yourself,” he continues. “You must believe that you will win the game; otherwise, your mindset will be focused on hoping it will occur. “You must enter with the mentality of imposing our game on them, not the other way around.”

And in the haka position? “One of the most remarkable occurrences on the field. Located in front of it. It is astounding to have the country’s history presented in front of you. It poses the challenge, and you must embrace it.”

Tuilagi, who is 31 years old, has reached a point in his career where he must limit his workload. Last week, he was not scheduled to face Japan at all, but Jones thought that it would be “good to top him up” and he played 16 minutes off the bench.

There are occasions when he is observed training independently, much more in tune with his body’s requirements than in previous years, yet no one is more popular within the camp.

Jones calls him “the ultimate team player,” and when Tuilagi recalls the “optimism” he has retained throughout all of his spells on the sidelines, you begin to see why his teammates like him. For the younger players of the squad this week, those who have never faced the All Blacks, there will be something comforting about seeing Tuilagi at the breakfast table.

“I tell the boys that you’re not here by mistake; you’re the greatest in the nation,” he says. If you’re fortunate enough to play a flawless game, consider it a bonus. But play your part, perform your duty, and accept the challenge, the game.

It is a worthy obstacle to overcome. I don’t believe there are many situations in life where you must simultaneously confront the physical and the mental, but in sports, you have that opportunity.

If all goes well, Tuilagi will earn his 50th England cap against South Africa this coming Saturday, or, to put it another way, he has earned 31 caps in the ten years since the All Blacks were defeated. Without his injury issues, he would be far into the triple digits by now, but he has no regrets – “I don’t want that, if I reach there I would be ecstatic” – since he is content with his lot as a teammate and family guy.

On Sunday, the players’ day off, families were allowed into the camp, and a soft-play area was set up for their children inside the training facility. As Tuilagi puts it, this is the place to practice chaos, he explains.

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