LONDON – Manu Tuilagi has insisted that “living and learning” had made him a more mature player as he looks to continue his England comeback against France in the Six Nations at Twickenham on Sunday.
The Leicester powerhouse is set to be named at inside centre again by England coach Eddie Jones on Friday after making his first Championship start since 2013 in last week's impressive 33-20 win away to Six Nations champions Ireland.
Above all Tuilagi hopes it his performance on the field that will be talked about rather than away from the pitch as happened following his first appearance against France in the quarter-finals of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
England lost 19-12 and then saw Tuilagi create yet more unwanted headlines when the Samoa-born midfielder jumped from a ferry shortly before it docked in Auckland.
Tuilagi received a warning from local police and was fined £3,000 ($3,885, 3,425 euros).
It was the first of a series of unsavoury incidents that included a conviction for assaulting an English police officer and making “bunny ears” behind then Britain's then Prime Minister, David Cameron.
As if that were not enough, Tuilagi saw his career blighted by a succession of groin, knee and hamstring injuries.
But the 27-year-old marked his international return in Dublin with both trademark powerhouse charges downfield and, in a sign of how his game has developed, plenty of craft, as he linked well with centre partner Henry Slade.
'Be better as a person'
Tuilagi, reflecting on his indiscretions, said Thursday: “That feels like a long time ago to be fair.
“As you grow up you learn - you live and you learn. All the things that have happened, you make your bed and you've got to lie in it. That's life.”
The British and Irish Lions back added: “You learn and try to be better as a person. For me as a rugby player, to come back now and have a second opportunity to have a go at it.”
Tuilagi, whose fitness problems have limited him to 28 England caps since his debut eight years ago, added: “I remember the game against France at the World Cup. It was a good game. They got to the final in the end, fair play to them.
“We had most of the ball, we attacked really well, we started really well, especially in the first half, we just didn't finish off our opportunities.”
Meanwhile for all his injuries, Tuilagi was adamant he never lost faith that he would resume his career.
“I always had in my mind when I was injured that I'd be back playing, back on the pitch. That's what got me going when I was inside doing my rehab,” he said.
Now his attention is firmly fixed on a France side who somehow managed to squander a 16-0 lead at half-time in losing 24-19 to Wales in their Six Nations opener in Paris.
“It was good to get the win, but that was last weekend,” he said. “This week we're focused on France because we know what they're going to bring - well, no one knows what they are going to bring. We've got to be ready for it.
“It's harder because they are very unpredictable,” Tuilagi added.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)