Manu Tuilagi has revealed he feels harshly treated, having been excluded from the World Cup squad after he pleaded guilty to assault.
The Leicester centre said he informed Stuart Lancaster before the hearing that he was not going to make the tournament because of injury. Asked whether he felt Lancaster was making an example of him, safe in the knowledge that he would not be able to play, Tuilagi replied: “I don’t know. You’d have to ask him.”
Tuilagi also stated that he did not assault two female police officers in the incident that prompted England to exclude him until January 2016, despite a guilty plea which he said was made on the advice of his lawyer.
Tuilagi said he felt hard done by: “In a way. It’s a bit harsh but life is harsh. My side of the story is not out. I always own up to what I’ve done. I feel with this one like I’ve owned up to what I’ve not done. That’s why I feel it’s important to get my side of the story out.”
Speaking at the opening of Pacific Warriors, a film to celebrate and promote rugby in his native Pacific Islands, he went on to give that testimony. “I didn’t assault any of the [female] police officers. It looks like I have basically beaten up the two police officers which is not the case.”
He described how he and his party had left a Leicester nightclub, looking for a taxi and that a cab pulled over and he had been the first to reach it.
“It was one of those big ones,” he said, “with a big sliding door. I was standing in the taxi trying to call everyone. My shoulder and half my body were in the doorway. The taxi just shot forward and hit me in the shoulder.”
When one of Tuilagi’s party alerted the taxi driver to this, Tuilagi claims the driver replied: “He shouldn’t have been standing there.” That was when Tuilagi grabbed him by the neck – and presumably, as was alleged, damaged the wing mirror of the car. Tuilagi’s brothers pulled him away. A few moments later, as they went off to look for another taxi, Tuilagi says he felt a hand grab his from behind.
“I felt someone try to grab my hands so I just pulled my hands away. That’s it. Basically, that is assault. You can just touch someone and that is assault.”
Tuilagi said he did not know that it was a police officer who grabbed him and that she had touched him first. On the advice of his own lawyer he pleaded guilty in order to bring matters to a swift conclusion. Had he not, the case would have been adjourned to midway through the World Cup. “The lawyers said: ‘This is the plan’, so I was like, the lawyer knows what he is doing and I went with him because I trust him.”
Not that he was going to make the World Cup anyway. “The point I knew I would miss the World Cup was after the Six Nations. I started running and that went really well. But when I upped the pace and did some sprinting, it didn’t react too well. I came back the next day after waking up and it was pretty much back to where we started. I thought then that this is the third time I’ve tried to come back, so I thought I need to put it in my head that I won’t make the World Cup.”
He had a meeting with Lancaster two days before the court case and related to him the details of the incident. “He said we’ll see what happens in court and go from there.”
Tuilagi was ordered to pay £6,025 in fines, compensation, charges and costs. England then issued statement that “in the light of his conduct and subsequent conviction” he would not be considered again for England’s Elite Player Squad until January 2016.
Tuilagi is hopeful that his groin injury will clear up for him to return by Christmas, though the physios at Leicester are not putting a date on it. He would not comment on his future with England. “Look, all I am thinking about at the minute is getting back fit and playing for Leicester Tigers. That’s it.”
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