Manu Tuilagi warned special treatment may await him when England tackle Samoa
Vunipola, the Saracens number eight of Tongan heritage, has first hand experience from Japan 2019 of what it is like to be targeted by Polynesian opposition with a point to prove.
It is a scenario that Tuilagi will encounter in Lille on Saturday week when Samoa are England’s final Pool D assignment before the quarter-finals.
Now 32-years-old, Tuilagi moved to the UK from the Pacific island when he was 13 and even though he remains proud of his origins, Vunipola expects him to have a target on his back at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
“I know for a fact that the Samoan boys, as much as they respect and hold Manu in high regard for what he has done for exposure in his heritage, they will want to go after him,” Vunipola said.
“Everyone knows Manu can look after himself but we will be right next him trying to help as much as we can because they will be ready and waiting.
“It happened to me at the last World Cup against Tonga when I remember getting put on my backside. I looked up and everyone was cheering on the side of the pitch like they won the game.
“I am on the other side of it but if I were to put myself in a Tongan shirt I would think ‘let’s go get this Tongan kid or who thinks he’s a Tongan kid even if he is on the other side’.
“That’s how I would think if I was in the Tonga team but I am not. I still remember the image of them cheering on the bench and it made me laugh. You just have to accept it and move on.”
England face the prospect of colliding with Pacific island opposition on successive weekends given they are likely to face Fiji in the quarter-finals on October 15.
The teams last met at Twickenham in August when the dangerous Fijians prevailed 30-22, securing a historic first victory in the fixture. It was an important moment for Islander rugby, but Vunipola felt only deflation.
“You obviously have that link to what you have in common with them but at the end of the day I am representing England and I want to win,” the back row said.
“As soon as I cross the white line against any Polynesian team, it’s like ‘right, how do we get the result?’
“Watching the Fiji game in August there was no part of me that was thinking ‘oh great win Fiji, I am happy for you’.
“I was gutted for the boys and was disappointed that we lost. It does not matter about history or they are Polynesian, it is just about the result.”
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