England's Manu Tuilagi drops in on Kesteven Rugby Club juniors
It was no ordinary Sunday training session for the Minis and Juniors at Kesteven Rugby Club on Sunday.
While they were having fun honing the skills and techniques of the game, little did they know that formidable England back Manu Tuilagi – younger brother of Kesteven’s director of rugby, Fereti (Freddie) Tuilagi – was on his way to meet them.
Around 100 of the Black Army’s junior members got to meet Manu in Sunday’s surprise visit from the rugby hero in what for many will be an absolute highlight of the season – if not their rugby career – so far.
Fresh from the Rugby World Cup campaign, and spending well over an hour presenting Opro mouthguards to every member of Kesteven Rugby’s mini section, Manu generously made time to speak to and have selfies taken with everyone who wanted one, signing Kesteven Rugby balls and shirts in the process.
Asked what it was like to be back on home territory and his highlights, Manu said that he missed the England Rugby squad having spent 22 weeks with them – a sentiment many who play the game could identify with.
Manu said: “I loved the whole thing. I actually really miss the boys.”
At Woodnook, and back at a local club where it all begins for international stars like himself, Manu spoke of the importance of organisations like Kesteven Rugby. He said: “Grassroots and clubs like Kesteven are the most important thing for the game. It’s where everyone starts, whether they play for England or not. It’s where everyone begins.”
In recent weeks, two current and former Kesteven Rugby players have been called up for duty at professional clubs – Ollie Chessum for Leicester Tigers in the Premiership Shield fixture away to Gloucester, and Ed Bloodworth, who came up through Kesteven Rugby’s mini, junior and colts to the first team, and who signed for Yorkshire Carnegie in September. A number of Kesteven Rugby’s girl players are also being tipped for the top.
Manu offered the following advice to people looking to play the game and to aspiring professional rugby players of the future, of which Kesteven has many and now more so after Sunday: “Enjoyment is so important; work hard and keep trying.”
These sentiments are clear to see in Manu Tuilagi’s own inspirational story. The Leicester Tiger was instrumental to England’s recent Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan and pivotal in England’s dominance of New Zealand in a stunning semi-final performance.
However, these stellar run-outs for the national side came after a long road to recovery after injury-stricken seasons in recent years.
Enjoyment, teamwork, respect for the game and others, and determination all clearly characterise Manu’s own journey to Japan and back to the grassroots game.
More by this authorJohn Burgess