Manusamoa Tuilagi has a pre-game ritual, he crosses himself to signify his Catholic faith and touches his left elbow where the Samoan flag is tattooed on his sleeve. When he scores a try, he points to the heavens where his forebears are looking down, keeping an eye on him. Photo - Getty Images
Before the Gilbert oval was hoisted high into the heavens at Yokohama Stadium on Saturday evening last to begin the do-or-die Rugby World Cup (RWC) semi-final match against the mighty All Blacks, Manu Tuilagi’s fans in Samoa and around the world already knew that he would play a crucial role in England’s win over New Zealand.
That he did. There was no need to be at all concerned that the All Blacks had more Samoans playing for New Zealand than for England. All eyes were on Manu, the lone Samoan warrior on the England side.
Even if the fans watching the game at the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel hotel in Apia late on Saturday night had vested interest in both camps.
The premonition was foretold in his name.
And the omen was true. Leading the charge against New Zealand was Tui-a-lagi, the son of Earth and of the high Heavens. That’s the meaning of the surname.
Tuilagi in Samoa legend is a resident of the earth who fought his battles in the sky. He is beyond mere mortals.
That promise is inseparable in the person of Manusamoa, and he is indeed inescapable of that destiny.
No other rugby player of Samoan origin of current RWC squads is burdened with such promise and intuition.
Against all predictions, England is dominant early and Manu scores in 1m42s against the All Blacks CREDIT Reuters
Manu carries with him all the foreboding legends of the past. He was born during the 1991 RWC where his brother Fred was a hero playing for Manu Samoa in the slaying of the Welsh dragon alongside Samoa legends Papali'itele Peter Fatialofa, Pat Lam and Muliagatele Brian Lima. Fred, who also now holds the title Lauaki, and Brian were only 19 years of age.
The new Tuilagi heir, youngest of seven children was duly named Manusamoa meaning fearless warrior.
The surname Tuilagi is of high-chiefly heritage in his village of Fatausi on the island of Savai’i and indeed in all of Samoa.
And if that was not enough, Manu was bestowed the high titles of Namulau’ulu and Lauaki by his extended family.
Samoan chiefly titles are conferred in recognition of character. In Manu’s case, he was not only destined for the roles but has proved his worth.
In Samoa’s short history, Manu’s forebear Namulau’ulu Mamoe Lauaki was the leader of the political Mau Movement.
He led the resistance that opposed the Germans to their face in those ugly colonial days when Samoa’s future was decided in Berlin in 1899 by Germany, the United States and Britain.
Germany was to rule Western Samoa and Eastern Samoa was given to the United States. Britain was already lording it over the islands of Fiji.
Namulauulu Lauaki was a voice against German guns. But he fought on to rid Samoa of foreign rule.
For his role in the resistance Lauaki was exiled by the Germans to Saipan, a remote island in the western Pacific in 1909. He would never see Samoa again. Namulau’ulu died in exile in 1915, sadly on the return trip home.
He had won the war. Germany was no longer rulers of Samoa having been booted out in 1914 at the start of WWI.
Coach Eddie Jones had a prophecy of his own ahead of the semifinal, that Manu will be let loose
to terrorise the All Blacks CREDIT AFP
The village elders recognised the same fighting spirit in Manu and conferred on him with yet another title pertaining to the promise. That title, Tuita’amasauali’i speaks of the true prophecy around Manu the man.
Tuita’amasauali’i was a man whose peers were not of this world in much the same way the Tuilagi of legends.
That’s the legacy; heritage and history present in the England 2nd five/Centre. When Manu is in Samoa and he sits with the village elders, he is addressed in high oratory speak as the Tuita’amasauali’i Namulau’ulu Lauaki Manusamoa Tuilagi.
And he plays for England.
The fact Manu plays for England and not Samoa is testament to the omen. He is free of physical worldly restraints and he cannot be contained.
In playing for England, he is first and foremost playing for Samoa. Manu has a pre-game ritual that speaks of this, before the game starts, Manu crosses himself to signify his Catholic faith and then he pats his left elbow, that is where the Samoan flag is tattooed on his sleeve.
To the fans watching the game against the All Blacks, Manu was the prince and the rest of the English team were bridesmaids in whites. They had eyes only for their hero.
And it proved so. In the first minute of the match, Manu punched at the All Blacks line several times and soon muscled his way over for England’s opening try in 1m42s.
He then made midfield his domain, even taking an intercept off the All Blacks. He was a force going forward on attack and retreating in defence. He was solid as an English rock wall.
The omen is true. As his name so is he.
His forebear, Namulau’ulu Lauaki would surely be proud to have seen tonight the boy growing into the legend that he is becoming.
Tonight, Manu was mercurial and stood hard and fast against other Samoan warriors on the opposing side.
Manu Tuilagi facing the Press before the semifinal against the All Blacks CREDIT- Getty Images
He was equally devastating the week before in the quarterfinal game against Australia with England winning 40-16. Manu handled the ball twice in the move that led to England's first try.
But then he slipped a tackle on his opposite Samu Kerevi in the 20th minute of that game. That was a blip and not the norm - it speaks of his human side for sure.
Against the All Blacks, Tuilagi was the best of the Samoan players on the field that included the indomitable Sonny Bill Williams, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ardie Savea, Patrick Tuipulotu, Angus Ta’avao, Richie Mo'unga and Nepo Laulala.
It was the same in the Australian game laced with Samoan talent in Scott Sio, Allan Alaalatoa, Jordan Petaia, Jordan Uelese, Christian Leali'ifano and Matt To'omua. But watch out for young Petaia, he has the goods.
Manu played on mightily in the unlikely win over the All Blacks, 19-7. The All Blacks were made to look like mere mortals.
Manu was the last of the substitutes to be made in the 73rd minute, the same time he was subbed the week before against the Wallabies. But by then, all redemption for the All Blacks, as it was for the Wallabies was made null and void.
England won yet another battle with Tuilagi having played out of this world.
There is one more battle remaining for the Webb Ellis Cup. Tuilagi will again don all the war weaponry of his heritage in order to vanquish South Africa in the RWC final in Tokyo.
The war is almost won and the promise fulfilled.