Lewis Moody: Manu Tuilagi has finally grown up and can explode for England at the Rugby World Cup

MANU TUILAGI always reminds me of a superstar musician bursting onto the scene.

We always think of the England battering ram as the player who destroyed the All Blacks in 2012 – like a Madonna or Blondie – they get eternally remembered as that version on stage that first caught your eye.

Manu Tuilagi is playing with the freedom of his early years - and England are getting the benefit, says Lewis Moody
Manu Tuilagi is playing with the freedom of his early years – and England are getting the benefit, says Lewis Moody
PA:Press Association

You remember these global superstars in that state of mindset and you forget that they learn and grow.

Manu is the same, having overcome a number of off-field issues and horrific injuries to return back to his blistering best.

The joy of sport and the joy of life is that sometimes you get the second chance to get it right.

Australia’s James O’Connor was equally prolific as a youngster before going off the rails – and he is going through the same revival right now as Manu.

So I’m so excited to see how they both do over the next few weeks.

I can’t imagine for one second those run-ins of the past ever derailing Manu again as he returns to the World Cup for the first time in eight years.

When you play against someone who is bristling with energy, is the size of the house and can probably run the 100m in 10 seconds, it is the idea of hell for any knackered defender.

Early in his career he was such an enigma in an England jersey – we never had anyone like it and he probably felt a big weight on his shoulders.

And right now he’s playing with that same care-free, laid-back, chilled-out mentality again.

Knowing him, I think he always plays his best rugby when he doesn’t have the weight of the world on his shoulders.

James O’Connor is another who has grown up and is back producing his best rugby for Australia
James O’Connor is another who has grown up and is back producing his best rugby for Australia
Getty Images – Getty

The frustrations of injuries and being out of the game you love and watching your mates is always tough and it wears you down.

With Manu, the more you can allow him to be himself on and off the field, the more you will get out of him and Eddie Jones understands that.

He comes from pretty impressive stock – following in the footsteps of his brother Freddie, Alex and Henry.

I remember when he came along as an 18-year-old at Leicester Tigers he had already set the world alight in junior rugby.

If you’re an 18 stone teenager, absolutely rapid and built like a tank – you’re going to find rugby a sport that comes quite easily.

Now we’re seeing the mature Manu and I know how professional he is in how he approaches his rugby.

He has always been very passionate about the game and luckily for us at Leicester, Manu and his brothers were always very tempered in training.

Lastly, I’m disappointed for Wales, as it must be very disruptive losing Rob Howley after allegations that he breached betting regulations surfaced.

I’m sure we will learn more about this full story as time unfolds. On the flip side, Stephen Jones is a bloody brilliant coach and enormously respected too.

If anything, he will relish this chance and it could even be a Godsend for Welsh rugby.

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