Manu Tuilagi has admitted hiding the early stages of the groin injury that almost ended his career back in 2014.
The England centre revealed he strapped himself up in secret and played through the pain for five games, keeping the injury from Leicester’s physios and coaches.
Tuilagi was applying tape to his groin and pubic bone like a belt until he felt a “loud pop” in a European match against Ulster that left him unable to walk.
The Samoa-born powerhouse won just two caps between 2014 and 2019 amid a catalogue of setbacks, and he even sought the services of a witch doctor to help end his injury curse.
Now fully fit and itching to flex his muscles as England inch toward the World Cup, the 28-year-old laid bare his folly in ignoring his body’s natural warning signs some five years ago.
“You just think, ‘I am never going to get injured’, even if it hurts you think, ‘I will be alright’; that is a lesson,” said Tuilagi.
“With my groin, I played five games with it being really painful. It was stupid.
“It was the start of the season in 2014. I pulled my adductor but I had no idea what an adductor felt like if you pulled it.
“I did it on the Thursday, played on the Saturday and strapped it up. I played five games with it and it went higher and higher into my groin.
“At one stage I started strapping my pubis. The physio was like, ‘What are you doing?’, I said, ‘Er, nothing’.
“I started strapping my pubis, which was just stupid. In the fifth game, I got the ball in the first 20 minutes, went to accelerate and bang, there was a pop, a loud pop and I just couldn’t walk.
“I had pretty much dislocated my pubic bone. I guess I wasn’t honest with the physios, but also I didn’t really know what it was. I didn’t tell the physios. I would say, ‘It is a bit sore’.
“It got to that point where you are running and trying to just take the pain.
“With injuries, you have to be honest. That is the best because if you’re not honest with the physio they don’t know how to treat you. That’s the biggest thing, trying to be honest as much as possible.”
Tuilagi could have almost doubled his 34 England caps but for his horrid run of injuries across the last five years.
The battering-ram centre tries not to dwell too much on those lost opportunities but is keen for others to heed this cautionary tale.
Asked how different the last five years could have been, Tuilagi said: “I ask that myself at times but I don’t regret anything. Whatever happened there has got me here now. Of course, it would have been different.”
Tuilagi now swears by regular meetings with Leicester’s sports psychologist and a more mindful warm-up routine, hoping both can pay a dividend at next month’s World Cup in Japan.
“We have a psychologist that comes into Tigers, he comes in every couple of months and I have about half an hour with him just speaking to him about how you get your body ready and rugby in general,” said Tuilagi.
“We talk about my game and that; that really helps me. The warm-up is important in terms of my mind and body. I need to get my mind right to go into contact but also knowing that my body is 100 per cent ready for it, especially now the game is so physical.
“I guess I take more time warming up and just go through the drills so that when I am going into training I can pretty much go full speed.
“Some things you can play through with pain, but if your body cannot function mechanically, that’s the big problem.
“I love being here with England now though, especially with this group of players. It’s something special that is happening here and for me, just being part of that is unbelievable.”
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Leaving Eden Park last weekend, Australia’s crushing 36-0 defeat to the All Blacks surely left head coach Michael Cheika more questions than answers.
Seven days previously, the Wallabies waltzed to a record 47-26 win over the world champions in Perth and, heading into the return fixture, looked on course to clinch a first Bledisloe Cup in 17 years.
Where everything the Wallabies touched in Perth turned to gold, it blew up in their faces in Auckland.
And for Cheika, that has unfortunately been the theme of his managerial reign after leading an ill-regarded Wallabies squad to the World Cup finals in 2015.
A promising performance, always followed by one poor display.
Aside from last Saturday’s assassination against New Zealand, Cheika’s side are in a much better place compared to nine months ago when they were coming off their worst season in 60 years. Nine defeats in 13 Tests left them sitting sixth in the world rankings and low on confidence.
But, in truth, it has been a fairly poor four years for the Wallabies since reaching the World Cup finals, with 18 victories and two draws from 46 matches.
If there is anything to give them belief ahead of Japan, it is the two-time champions do tend to perform better at World Cups regardless of pre-tournament form. This is something that other teams will no doubt be wary of.
The Australians have enough quality through the likes of Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Michael Hooper and David Pocock to pose a threat on the grand stage. But a consistent 80-minute performance against quality opposition has looked increasingly beyond them.
Ill-discipline has contributed to the view of a wounded set-up, but what hurts Wallabies fans most is the sight of their backs approaching the defensive line with little idea of how to breach it.
With Fiji, Wales and Georgia to play before their World Cup opener on September 21, it is too late for the coaching ticket to be coming up with new game plans and styles. Instead, these three warm-up matches need to be used for Cheika to find his best XV while also showing consistency and hunger in their play.
Australia have always been about playing an expansive brand of rugby that relies heavily on their skillful backs, with Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor showing flashes of their old magic in recent weeks. Out wide, the elusive Hodges has three tries from three matches in the Rugby Championship and looks lethal with ball in hand.
At half-back, Nic White and Lealiifano have emerged as solid options if Cheika opts for them ahead of the experienced duo of Will Genia and Bernard Foley. Both can orchestrate proceedings and have the intelligence and pace to put the Wallabies on the front foot.
The Wallabies, though, will have their work cut out to reproduce a repeat of 2015 when Cheika transformed an average squad into World Cup finalists.
Drawn in Pool C with Wales, Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay, the Wallabies should emerge as runners-up from the group which will pit them against England in the last eight.
Their encounter against Wales on September 29 is likely to be the pool decider, but the Dragons are the form team in the world and should have too much class for Australia.
A quarter-final finish may match the Wallabies worst ever finish at rugby’s global showpiece, but unfortunately, it is their glass ceiling at the moment.
Fit-again Mako Vunipola is approaching the best shape of his career – but try telling that to the lady who had to wheel the 122kg prop through Los Angeles airport back in June.
Vunipola has finally recovered from the torn hamstring tendon he suffered in Saracens’ Champions Cup final victory in May, and could feature in England’s clash with Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday.
The 28-year-old could not straighten his leg after surgery to fix the tendon back onto the bone, and so had to use crutches and a wheelchair en route to brother Billy’s wedding back in Tonga.
While the British and Irish Lions prop enjoyed his convalescence, he admitted some of those enlisted to help his mobility had their work cut out.
“In terms of bodyweight I’m near enough the lightest I’ve ever been,” said the elder Vunipola brother.
“I feel good about that. Body conditioning-wise it’s one of those constant things for me, I’ve just got to keep working on that.
“In terms of fitness I feel very good. Match fitness is something different. We’ll see how I go on the weekend if I get the chance.
“I weigh 122kg now, and the lightest I’ve ever been was 121kg, in Australia in 2016.
“I tore the tendon at the top of hamstring so the muscle became detached from the bone, so they had to go back in and attach that back on.
“For two weeks I was not allowed to strain my hamstring.
“Unfortunately I went to Tonga in those two weeks so it was hard going round on crutches and watching what I eat. Luckily my family helped me through that.
“I could bend my knee but I couldn’t lie straight with it. The airport staff looked after me in Los Angeles on the way.
“I was in a wheelchair and some poor lady had to push me. She was struggling a bit!
“I asked, ‘Are you OK?’, and I owed her a big thank you.”
Vunipola is itching to get going after his latest injury setback, and now has the chance to chase full match sharpness, with England launching their World Cup campaign against Tonga on September 22.
Happy to joke about his experiences now, the combative front-rower also knows full well how injuries can quickly alter a mood.
“I had to put pillows underneath my leg: it was ideal because it gave me an excuse not to leave bed,” joked Vunipola.
“I don’t need much excuse. I was in bed constantly apart from when I needed to go to the bathroom or the kitchen.
“I had a pretty good setup with the TV and Playstation. For me, it was pretty much heaven. I was ready to get out of bed by the end of it though.
“I needed to move and get the hamstring moving, but I also felt very sloppy by the end of those two weeks.
“You get bigger and you lose muscle – not that you can really tell the difference.”
Asked what he weighed at the end of that fortnight off his feet, Vunipola joked he avoided the scales – to stay out of trouble with head coach Eddie Jones.
He added: “I didn’t even want to get on the scales. I don’t want to say either. I don’t want Eddie finding out!
“I’m excited about being back playing, it’s been tough the last four to five weeks training by myself.
“We have talked about not wanting to take anything for granted.
“Every time I think I am alright, something else happens. It might be luck, it might be something else, but every day and every time I am training I have to make sure I am doing my best to improve and every time I play, play like it’s my last game.”
Provided by Press Association Sport