‘It happened to me’ – Manu Tuilagi warned about special Samoan treatment

Jared Wright
England centre Manu Tuilagi and cut of number eight Billy Vunipola during the 2019 Rugby World Cup match against Tonga

Billy Vunipola predicts that Samoa players will give Manu Tuilagi special treatment.

Samoan-born England centre Manu Tuilagi has been warned that special treatment awaits him when the Red Rose face Manu Samoa in the Rugby World Cup.

Tuilagi’s siblings Henry, Tuilagi, Tuilagi, Sanele Vavae and Anitelea all represented Manu Samoa during their playing days.

Because of his links to Samoa, his teammate Billy Vunipola has warned that he can expect a Samoan onslaught when the two sides clash on October 7.

Tuilagi set for special treatment

Vunipola, the England number eight of Tongan heritage, has first-hand experience during the 2019 World Cup when he was targeted by Polynesian opposition with a point to prove.

32-year-old Tuilagi moved to the UK from the Pacific island when he was 13, and even though he remains proud of his origins, Vunipola expects him to have a target on his back at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

“I know for a fact that the Samoan boys, as much as they respect and hold Manu in high regard for what he has done for exposure in his heritage, they will want to go after him,” Vunipola said.

“Everyone knows Manu can look after himself, but we will be right next to him, trying to help as much as we can because they will be ready and waiting.

“It happened to me at the last World Cup against Tonga when I remember getting put on my backside. I looked up, and everyone was cheering on the side of the pitch like they won the game.

“I am on the other side of it, but if I were to put myself in a Tongan shirt, I would think, ‘let’s go get this Tongan kid or who thinks he’s a Tongan kid even if he is on the other side’.

“That’s how I would think if I was in the Tonga team, but I am not. I still remember the image of them cheering on the bench, and it made me laugh. You just have to accept it and move on.”

Prospect of facing Fiji again

Steve Borthwick’s England team could face off against Pacific Island opposition on successive weekends, given they are likely to face Fiji in the quarter-finals on October 15.

The Flying Fijians defeated the Red Rose 30-22 at Twickenham ahead of the World Cup, securing an historic first victory in the fixture.

Vunipola, who missed the match through suspension, was gutted by the result despite the victory being an important moment for Islander rugby.

“You obviously have that link to what you have in common with them, but at the end of the day, I am representing England, and I want to win,” the back-row said.

“As soon as I cross the white line against any Polynesian team, it’s like ‘right, how do we get the result?’

“Watching the Fiji game in August, there was no part of me that was thinking ‘oh great win, Fiji, I am happy for you’.

“I was gutted for the boys and was disappointed that we lost. It does not matter about history or they are Polynesian; it is just about the result.”

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