Manu Tuilagi, through his own stupidity has let himself and the country down but while he will do the time, he should be given a chance to rehabilitate
First let’s get the admonishments out of the way. Manu Tuilagi, quite clearly in an inebriated state at 3am in the morning, acted like a lout you see up and down the country in magistrates courts when they’ve sobered up, certainly not an England role model. He kicked the wing-mirror of a taxi, grabbed the driver round the throat and for good measure pushed two female police officers in the chest while they were trying to handcuff him. Idiotic, reprehensible behaviour.
While we’re at it, let’s get his previous out of the way; the dive into Christchurch harbour; reckless, the bunny ears behind David Cameron’s head; childish and the heavy blows rained on Chris Ashton; hot-headed.
He has been punished, and I back Stuart Lancaster’s firm stance. It is unacceptable. Unlike other sports who have turned a blind eye to their star assets behaviour, there is no room for special treatment in rugby, it’s against the core values of the game. Believe me, no one will feel more wretched than Manu for the shame he has caused his family, club and country. And let’s not forget the England fans – he came in for all sorts of abuse on social media – are livid. Most of all, however, he will know he’s let himself down badly. He is better than that.
But – and there’s always a but – I don’t think the wrap sheet should signal the end of his England career. I’m all for second chances, okay, third chances and rehabilitation. Humans make mistakes, they’re genetically flawed and Manu, despite his superhuman physique has shown immaturity mentally.
It’s important to look at his mental state, after eight months of frustration, trying to get back on the field and perhaps harbouring deep-held fears about his groin not responding to treatment he has watched from afar while Jonathan Joseph has taken his opportunity almost by default and been lauded for it. Sportsmen often talk about injury taking them into a ‘dark place’ and while it’s no excuse but may explain his fragile psyche.
Tuilagi will undoubtedly have the protective cloak of the Leicester Tigers thrown around him in the coming months. Leicester are that type of club. They look after their own – note the absence of the news from the social media channels on Friday – and they’ll be working with him to get to the bottom of his frustrations.
I talk to people in rugby, and most agree Manu is not a bad lad. A bit of a rogue, yes, with a twinkle in his eye, but kind, thoughtful and funny, something you can see by his staunch support of Matt Hampson’s Foundation. Indeed a photographer we work with who shoots well-known public figures said he was the best subject he’s shot because he was so accommodating.
We saw with Danny Care, that Stuart Lancaster’s schoolmasterly ways can work. Tuilagi will no doubt find it excruciating to watch a tournament in which he was supposed to star, especially if England fail to punch holes in opposition defences, in the same way Dylan Hartley was pained during the 2013 Lions tour after his Premiership Final sending-off but I have no doubt, Tuilagi, who turns 24 today will return stronger for the chastening experience.
I for one hope he returns to his bullocking best for England and is not consigned to the ‘bad egg’ scrapbook, never to return. I hope he’s learnt his lesson.
But. No more chances.