Manu Tuilagi believes England’s World Cup quest will benefit from the diverse blend of cultures within Eddie Jones’ squad.
Samoan-born Tuilagi is among a number of players with overseas heritage who are looking to repeat the heroics of Martin Johnson’s 2003 Webb Ellis Trophy winners by sweeping all before them in Japan.
Also represented to varying degrees are Fiji, Tonga, Nigeria and the United States, while Lewis Ludlam’s background is a mix of Guyanese, Palestinian and Egyptian.
“I definitely think it helps. There’s a lot of different backgrounds in the team,” Tuilagi said.
“The most important thing is that you have to be a part of the team, but where you come from helps because it brings all of your experience from your culture.
“There’s definitely a feeling in the team that it doesn’t matter where you’re from. We’re all here for the same reason and we want to achieve the same goal.
“For me it shouldn’t be any different to anywhere else, whether that’s sport or outside of sport. As long as you all have the same goal, it doesn’t matter.
“It’s a team sport and as long as everyone does their job, you do your job and your mate does his job, then it all comes together.”
Tuilagi has overcome years of significant injury setbacks and disciplinary issues to make his first appearance at a World Cup since 2011.
“I didn’t think I’d be here in this position again. It’s a massive step in terms of trying to get back and play well,” Tuilagi said.
“Twenty-eleven feels like a long, long time ago in terms of rugby. I’ve been out with all the injuries, so I’m just thankful that I’m still playing.
“Between 2011 and this one there were a lot of dark days. To just be able to go out and train and then do what I love on the weekend is the main thing for me.
“What is so exciting is to be around the players that we have. There’s something special within this group of players and I’m excited to see where we can take this.”
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With Wales’ first match in the Rugby World Cup just two weeks away, we take a look at the star players who will be key to their Webb Ellis trophy prospects in Japan.
ALUN WYN JONES
The inspirational captain keeps the pack well organised and is the tipping point between winning and losing the forward battle such is his imposing presence. Shows up all over the pitch and is an outstanding line-out option. The 33-year-old has the experience and class to inspire Gatland’s side to glory.
The Cardiff man could be one of the stand-out players of the tournament if Wales go well in Japan. If a match is going down to the wire, you can bet on Navidi’s never-say-die attitude to earn Wales a late penalty or provide his backs with quality frontfoot ball. He disrupts ball at the breakdown and tackles his heart out at every opportunity. A colossal figure.
Without Gareth Anscombe to provide the spark from No10 due to injury, Biggar will keep the back-line ticking during the World Cup. The 29-year-old has the control and accurate kicking game to put the Dragons into formidable scoring opportunities. Will relish the pressure of carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders.
One of the best players in the Northern Hemisphere, North could step into any team with little fuss. It’s hard to believe he’s still only 27 – and his ability to eye gaps and produce magic with every touch has seen him evolve into one of the game’s most influential players.
With 40 tries in 89 caps, the powerful Ospreys wingers will be key to Gatland’s side flourishing in Japan.
An immaculate player. The Saracens man has taken his game to another level since the Lions Tour in 2017. He is supreme in the air, can counter attack from deep and defends well. Looks promising with ball in hand and has the pace and quality footwork to evade defenders and put team-mates in favourable attacking positions. One of the best in the business.
Quietly but effectively going about their business, Warren Gatland’s Wales will be a tour de force come their World Cup opener against Georgia in 11 days time.
The Dragons may have lost three out of their four warm-up games, but in a World Cup year, the only thing that matters is the World Cup itself.
The reality is each team is at different stages of their preparation – nobody wants to peak too early – and Wales had just come off two gruelling training camps in Turkey and Switzerland leading into those warm-up clashes.
Both of which are programmed to have them reaching peak physical and mental condition for Japan.
Gatland, who will sign off after 12 glittering years with Wales after the World Cup, is a big-game coach. He loves World Cups and has been planning for this moment for years.
In 2011, he turned a hapless pool-exiting side from 2007 into one that was a score away from reaching a World Cup final.
And four years later, his side upset the odds to escape a group with both England and Australia, only to lose the quarter-final in the last five minutes against South Africa.
In November, Wales completed a sweep of victories for the first time and went on to achieve a third Grand Slam success under Gatland’s tenure.
A first victory in 14 attempts over Australia was the highlight but Wales will also be pleased with the way they managed wins over South Africa, England and Ireland.
An unbeaten run of 14 Tests was ended by England at Twickenham in the first warm-up game last month, but beating them in Cardiff took Wales to the top of the world rankings.
Back-to-back defeats against Ireland may have raised some concern, but what cannot be disputed is the character and resilience within the squad and their iron-like defensive qualities.
Question marks though remain over Wales’ power game with a lack of penetrating ball carriers in their squad, resulting, at times, to employing a lateral attacking approach.
Their overall quality is evident, but their ability to cut opposition teams open needs to be addressed with a meagre seven tries in the last four matches.
The loss of fly-half Gareth Anscombe, flawless from the tee and controlling from open play during the Six Nations, to injury is significant but Dan Biggar will step up in the Ospreys man’s absence.
Up front, Taulupe Faletau is ruled out due to a broken collarbone, and as much as his powerful carrying and fearless tackling is a threat, one of either Josh Navidi or Ross Moriarty will take the number eight shirt and make a telling contribution.
In recent seasons, the experienced international pedigree of captain and star man Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies and George North has been added to by some exciting new blood.
Flanker Aaron Wainwright, locks Adam Beard and Cory Hill, hooker Elliot Dee, centre Owen Watkin and wing Josh Adams are just some of the names that have come in and flourished in recent years.
Despite a Grand Slam triumph in March, a lack of depth at fly-half and tight head will always make Welsh fans nervous come competition time.
But the buzz and excitement of a World Cup will have the players primed and firing come the tournament’s big kick-off next week.
Drawn in Pool D with Australia, Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay, the Dragons should emerge as group winners.
And despite Fiji looking to spring a surprise, the match against the Wallabies in Tokyo on September 29 will be the pool-shaping game. However, Gatland’s men should have the edge.
Crucially, if that is the case, they will avoid an in-form England in the quarter-finals and face either France or Argentina.
One would sense they have the superiority and class to match their best-ever finish of reaching a semi-final, and from there, it will be fascinating to see how they deal with it.
LIKELY XV: L Williams; North, J Davies, Parkes, Adams; Biggar, G Davies; N Smith, Owens, Francis, Ball, AW Jones, Wainwright, Navidi, Tipuric.
Emblem: Prince of Wales’s feathers
Union: Welsh Rugby Union
Head coach: Warren Gatland
Captain: Alun Wyn Jones
Most caps: Gethin Jenkins (129)
Top scorer: Neil Jenkins (1,049)
Top try scorer: Shane Williams (58)
Home stadium: Millennium Stadium
Best finish: Third (1987), Fourth (2011)
Fixtures: Georgia (September 23), Australia (September 29), Fiji (October 9), Uruguay (October 13)