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House of Rugby

10th Apr 2019

“It was horrific” – James Haskell on the player he dreaded facing most

Patrick McCarry

Henry Tuilagi

“He would absolutely kill people, and he’d do it with a smile on his face.”

As rugby families go, the Tuilagis are right up there as one of the most talented, and fearsome.

Manu Tuilagi is back doing wonders for Leicester and England and he is prospering on a path forged, and scythed, for him by his older brothers.

Andy, Sanele, Freddie, Henry and Alesana all played professional rugby and represented Samoa while Manu opted to wear the red rose on his chest after his family relocated to England in the early 2000s.

That path forged by the elder Tuilagi brothers oft-times resembled a path of destruction. On JOE UK’s House of Rugby, Northampton and England flanker James Haskell recalled some unforgettable encounters with Henry.

Guest host Vernon Kay posed a listener question about the player Haskell and former England captain Mike Tindall were “scared” of playing. Haskell responded:

“There’s no-one that’s ever scared me because, I think, then you wouldn’t play the game… but there was one player that I was super wary of and always wondered where he was. That was Henry Tuilagi.

“The problem with Henry is, for a start, he was about 135kgs. He used to stand in the back-field and people used to kick him the ball, and he would catch it and hold it in one hand. His hand was so big that it looked like a miniature rugby ball.

“And he would run… and just the f***ing hate in his face. He was just like whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop, and he would run so f***ing hard.

“Obviously the first person would be like, ‘I’ll do it [tackle him]!’ and they’d just bounce off him… dust!

“Then I’d be like, ‘I love you mum!’, and dive into the spokes! It was horrific.

“He would batter some people. He would absolutely kill people, and he’d do it with a smile on his face, and would repeatedly do it.”

Henry Tuilagi pictured during a friendly between Northampton Saints and Samoa at Franklin’s Gardens on 2007.

If there was a fate worse than having to tackle Henry Tuilagi, who played with distinction for Leicester, Perpignan and Samoa, it was being tackled by the giant back-row.

“And worse than that,” Haskell continued, “you would carry the ball and would see him in front on you. ‘Oh f***, Henry!’

“But then he’d disappear out of your eye-line and you knew what he was doing. Waiting for you to get the ball and step, then he would arc out [and tackle you] with that arm-guard that was 90% titanium. What’s that stuff, adamantium? The same shit that Wolverine’s hands were made out of, because normally that wouldn’t get the IRB [World Rugby] approval so they were wrapped.

“[When he hit someone] you’d just hear the noise, piiiiiing. Like tuning forks! Honestly, he would kill people.”

If you think Haskell may be exaggerating, here is a clip of Ben Foden getting the full Henry Tuilagi treatment back in 2009:

The wariness Haskell had for Tuilagi on the field was replaced by reverence (with a dash of wariness) when they met off the field. Haskell commented:

“Henry Tuilagi was such a big man that, I’ll tell you… Pacific Islanders have this real hierarchy thing and I have the utmost respect for him.

“When we won the Six Nations in France [in 2016], he was standing by a table of our free drink and I was asking him permission! ‘Could I have a drink? Mr Tuilagi, sir, please may I have a vodka?’

“‘Yeah, help yourself.’ ‘Oh, thank you’.”

Henry Tuilagi and his brothers definitely left their mark on the game, and the bodies of several opponents.

Subscribe here to JOE’s House of Rugby:

Episode 26 sees guest host Vernon Kay joined by James Haskell and Mike Tindall to discuss media headlines, shower etiquette, 4G pitches and rugby initiations.