I shared a car journey with Junior Paramore last night. I was his chauffeur in a friend’s courtesy car, to and from an event celebrating the 10 year anniversary of when he and the Bedford Blues lifted the Powergen Shield at Twickenham. Comically, we travelled in a two door Vauxhall Corsa. And when you are sat in a very small car, next to Junior Paramore, who is about six inches wider across the shoulders than when he was playing (and when he was playing he had big shoulders) you tend to listen to what he says.
I’d invited his thoughts on the Manu Tuilagi situation. The rambunctious England centre, involved in an incident with a taxi driver and two female police officers, has been banned from any of England’s plans until early 2016. Paramore himself is one of the original Samoan exports to ingratiate himself in English rugby culture. Originally with Bedford, as they climbed into the top flight, Paramore then spent five glorious years at Gloucester. His rock hard presence on the field coupled with his unmistakable charm and grace off it, couldn’t fail to work its magic on those most pragmatic of ‘Shed heads’. Junior is tea-total, consummate about his faith and devoted to his family. His slightly higher than expected vocal register is instantly recognisable to any who have spoken with him and he is as gracious in conversation, as he was uncompromising with ball in hand.
“Oh Sam, you know what, it is sad.” He begins with as heavy a sigh as this small car can withstand. The regret with which he speaks represents what everyone on that special south sea island of Samoa must be feeling. “He (Manu) needs his brothers. They are not around him in Leicester. We Samoans need our families, we have big families and Manu needs his brothers around him. He is the youngest, and without guidance this could always happen. We all know his talent but we also know he is capable of being silly. He’s done it before and this is him doing it again. You cannot excuse him but we must try and help him. He’s just a boy.”
“The injury room is a very lonely place. And the type of injury Manu had, so difficult bro. He was without his sport for so long, I am not saying what he did was right; it just doesn’t surprise me.”
And of course, Paramore is right. As explosive and combustible as he is in England’s midfield, Manu Tuilagi has an equally ignitable personality. He’s jumped from ships moored in harbour, given a world leader bunny ears; he hit Chris Ashton so hard and unashamedly, even those who wanted Chris Ashton hit, shook their heads disapprovingly. He has previous.
Manu has exiled himself this time. His injury was a sentence imposed by the gruelling and punishing game he plays, but his law breaking has banished him from the sanctity of the sport he craves so badly. We must try and look after him. He is a precocious and precious talent; flawed by a lack of knowing how and when.
The papers are awash with conjecture over where that leaves England this Autumn. Many say it solves the midfield problem Lancaster faced. What a flippant response. Here is a lad who needs support and help. Sod picking a team, let’s leave the World Cup to one side for a moment. Tuilagi needs to serve his time and resolve the issue that could end up scarring his life, not just his rugby career.
Rugby is a famous sporting family. And right now, Manu needs his family.
Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.