Manu Tuilagi has revealed he did not think he would play for England again after suffering a succession of injuries.
Tuilagi, who plays for the Leicester Tigers, last represented England in their Six Nations victory over Wales in 2016. Since then the centre has suffered knee and pectoral injuries which have seen his Test career come to a halt.
However, following a Man of the Match performance against the Scarlets in the European Champions Cup in October, the 27-year-old appears to be getting back to his best and will make his Test comeback from the bench against the Springboks at Twickenham.
Tuilagi told reporters that it was his love of rugby that kept him going in one of the darkest periods of his career, where he thought his days with England were done.
‘We have our feelings and you can be the strongest person, but you always have your doubts,’ Tuilagi said. ‘But if you really love what you’re doing, then that gets you up.
‘For me, I’ve got a family now with my little girl, so life is completely different in a very positive way.
‘I’m glad I’m here because all of the hard work you do is for this. It’s for achieving the highest achievement in your field and that’s to get picked and come and train with the best players in the country – that’s an honour in itself.’
The youngest of six brothers memorably played a starring role in England’s home victory over the All Blacks in 2012, something he still looks back on fondly.
‘To beat the All Blacks and to beat them the way that we did was very pleasing. I remember at that time that everyone wrote us off as we had already lost to South Africa and Australia.
‘That will stay with me for the rest of my life.’