‘The Warm-Down’ is an interview series in which we speak to high profile individuals about their life away from the limelight. We’re interested in all the things you won’t read about in the mainstream media; how our interviewees were raised, what they value in their home life and how they choose to spend their days off. In this edition, we focus on England and Sale Sharks rugby player Manu Tuilagi.
Tuilagi’s is a name that is familiar to many. His feats on a rugby pitch in the shirts of England, Leicester Tigers and, more recently, Sale Sharks have earned him a reputation for being a fierce competitor and one of the best Centres in the modern game. And, while he’d like you to believe he’s a much more laid-back guy off the pitch, his fiancée Chantelle is only too happy to out him.
“He turns his hobbies into borderline obsessions!" she jokes on a Zoom call with MUSTARD Director Jack – himself an England and Exeter Chiefs player.
The trio are joined by Jack’s girlfriend Zoe and both couple’s children – numbering three in total – on the call. However, it’s a fourth youngster - Manu and Chantelle’s still-to-be-born second child – who dominates the early conversation. Jack, whose own second child was born earlier this year - has some not entirely helpful advice for his England team-mate.
“All I can say is ‘good luck, mate!’” he grins. “I honestly thought, ‘we’ve had one, we know what it’s like, it’s going to be fine.’ But now that number two has arrived, we have no spare time… especially because this one doesn’t sleep!”
At this point, as if aware that she’s being brought into the conversation, new baby Zimi lets out a shriek, provoking laughter all-round. But, while the two families laugh and joke about all the typical perils of parenting, there’s no doubting both Manu and Jack take their responsibilities very seriously.
“Having kids makes you appreciate what your parents went through just to keep you alive!” says Manu.
And, while everyone on the call agrees, the sentiment is probably felt even more keenly by Tuilagi who grew up in a version of Samoa you won’t see in a travel agent’s brochure. Far from the world of cocktails on beaches, Tuilagi’s Samoa was one where the whole village practically forms your family, where everyone mucks in (Tuilagi’s brothers renovated the family home themselves) and where vicious 1v1 games of rugby against kids from other villages were the norm. If you cried when you got tackled, you wouldn’t be allowed to play on.
Fortunately, fostering an ability to smile even through tough times has stood Manu in good stead in his career. Despite being desperately unlucky with injuries, he’s great at keeping positive. How? Well, here we return to the aforementioned hobbies (read: obsessions!).
In just the time he’s been with Chantelle, Manu’s ever-growing list of new hobbies has seen him teach himself how to play guitar, buy a chainsaw (and ‘basically chopped down the entire garden’), learn how to complete Rubik’s cubes in a matter of minutes (even graduating to 20x20 square versions!), develop a love of coffee that sees him YouTubing coffee-art videos at 2am and steal a few extra hours of ‘me time’ at the snooker club!
“You definitely won’t get away with that when you’ve got two kids!” says Jack.
They laugh about it but both players know how draining it can be when injuries mean you can’t play the game you love. In times like that, new hobbies provide a way of channelling their energies, a chance to keep challenging yourself and, crucially, a way to stay positive. Fortunately, Manu feels he’s now found a more important – and longer-lasting – focus for his attention while off the pitch.
“Being a parent changes everything” he says. “It changes how you look at life. When you get injuries and you’re down, you come home and you realise that the main thing is that your family are safe and happy. Especially with all the injuries I’ve had, if I hadn’t had Chantelle and [daughter] Lani, I don’t think I’d still be playing.”
Jack agrees; ““Yeah, because your family aren’t that interested in rugby, they are a brilliant at distracting you!”
Obviously, both players feel they have plenty of years left in the game but with all this talk of activities outside the sport, the conversation naturally turns to life after rugby. Manu is currently supporting his brother Freddie with promoting his brand of gin, cleverly titled ‘Tuilagin’. But both Nowell and Tuilagi admit to having an interest in getting into the property game.
Tuilagi has even taken a two-year course in carpentry to help him do the houses up, much like his brothers did back in Samoa. However, he sees himself staying in the UK, probably returning to Leicester and definitely spending as much time as possible with his fast-growing family.
“You just have to remember that they’re not going to be around forever” says Manu as our call grows to a close. “We have to enjoy this time because they’re growing so fast.”
The also steadily-growing Chantelle – her natural 33-week pregnancy radiance only accentuated by her MUSTARD Axel Crew in Grey (“I’m amazed it still fits!” she jokes) – agrees.
“He’s Mr. Patient” she adds. “If Lani wakes up at 5:30am and wants to go downstairs, Manu will always be happy to do that. He knows spending time with her is all time well-spent.”
Well, it’s certainly better than learning how to pour the perfect cappuccino, I guess!
Shop the Tuilagi look:
TOP IMAGE | Manu’s wearing the Men’s Pillars Tee in White
TOP IMAGE | Chantelle is wearing the Ladies’ Axel Crew in Grey
MIDDLE IMAGE | Manu’s wearing the Box II Logo Tee in Sand
BOTTOM IMAGE | Chantelle is wearing the Ladies Axel Crop Tee in White