The Sale and England centre is set to return to action in four to five weeks
Manu Tuilagi talks comebacks, salsa and the Lions
Sale Sharks and England centre Manu Tuilagi is ‘hiding’ from his three-year-old daughter Leilani Lea’auta in his bedroom. “I had to distract her with Mini Eggs so I could do this interview!” he laughs.
The relaxed and warm Tuilagi on the video call is a stark contrast to the powerful and commanding presence he is on the pitch. And the 29-year-old reveals that fans should get to see him play again in four to five weeks’ time as he nears the end of his recovery from an Achilles injury sustained back in September.
“I’m looking forward to progressing now, getting in some more running for the next two to three weeks,” he says. “Then back with the team for a couple of weeks before playing.
“I guess the good thing about being injured is you can keep learning about the game. From watching the game, to just analyse and see how the game is played; how it’s moved on and how can I be better when I come back.”
While he maintains an ‘it is what it is’ mindset, Tuilagi admits being injured again has been tough. In a bid to make his rehab entertaining, the staff at Sale suggested some different activities for him to do – hiking and salsa dancing amongst them.
While he enjoys dancing, he quickly shuts down any suggestion of an appearance on Strictly Come Dancing.
“No way! The boys have already given me some banter. It’s good fun. But definitely not that. It’ll be for my wife and I to dance at home, that will be nice.
“The guys at Sale are really good; the medical team, the physios, the S&Cs. Nav (physiotherapist Navdeep Singh Sandhu), the guy that looks after me, he came up with the idea of walking before you run. So for me to be able to run again we did the hiking. I never really enjoyed walking so with the first walk, a long, long walk up the hills, I said to Nav, ‘Is this what people do for fun and relaxation?'”
Despite not taking to the new hobby at first, after two walks he was hooked, describing hikes in the Peak District near where he lives as beautiful.
He continues: “Sometimes rehab can become a bit boring when you do the same things; you stand in the gym doing calf raises all day. It’s a great way to mix it up. Even though you’re injured, you’re still enjoying the process of coming back to play. So the guys at Sale have really looked after me and come up with ideas to keep it fun and I’m really getting into salsa now as well!”
Now he cannot wait to get back on the pitch. The last time he pulled on a Sharks shirt Steve Diamond was head coach and when Tuilagi returns it will be new boss Alex Sanderson in charge.
“Obviously Dimes was a big part of Sale and a big part of why I moved here. (I was) so gutted for Dimes (the coach left the club for personal reasons in December) but I guess that’s how rugby is and sport is these days.
“The transition has been really good. Alex has come in and fit straight in, quite seamless as well. The boys are enjoying it and I think we’re going in the right direction.”
He says Sanderson is trying to set standards for players and back-room staff alike. Tuilagi’s main focus is returning to play before the end of the season and helping the team push for the Gallagher Premiership trophy.
“We are in a good spot at the moment and of course we want to win, if I say we didn’t want to win I’d be lying. So the thing for us is just focus on the next game.”
There has also been a lot of talk about whether Tuilagi will be in contention for Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad this summer.
Gatland will announce the squad in early May, just as Tuilagi is returning to play, and the star chuckles as he is asked about his ambition to get a spot.
“Everyone is asking me this question,” he says. “For me, I just want to get back playing, as simple as that. I take it day-by-day, just making sure I’m good.
“Making sure my rehab is good today, my running is good, then my focus will be on the next day. So for me it’s focusing on getting my running in and then focusing on getting back and playing for Sale.”
Can’t get to the shops? Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet. Subscribe to the print edition for magazine delivery to your door.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.