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Tuilagi dynasty still going strong with latest wrecking ball

SPOTLIGHT: The latest wrecking ball from the Tuilagi rugby dynasty was unleashed Friday, giant teenage lock Posolo making his debut for France in a 17-38 defeat to Ireland, and quickly maintaining the family’s fearsome reputation.

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Coming on in the 53rd minute as a replacement for Paul Gabrillagues, Tuilagi used all his considerable bulk, along with a changed front row, to immediately win a scrum penalty.

When Tuilagi’s name was announced over the tannoy, the crowd at a packed Stade Velodrome released a deafening roar of approval for the 19-year-old who stands 1.94m tall and weighs in at 149kg.

A rib-tickler of a tackle on Dan Sheehan got a similar response, the Ireland hooker getting up gingerly and installing himself on the wing as he took a breather.

Tuilagi, son of former Samoa international and Perpignan player Henry Tuilagi, was powerless as Sheehan peeled away for Ireland’s fourth try minutes later, but showed his ball skills while stepping into the playmaking link role to free up Thomas Ramos.

Three crash balls in quick succession were snuffed out by the Irish defence, but there were surely seeds of a start of a cult following for Tuilagi, who sports a wiry moustache and long, black hair.

Each carry was accompanied by roars perhaps last heard afforded to now-retired Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira, known as “The Beast”.

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“As a young player, he was always physically dominant, but technically he was also above everyone else,” said Perpignan coach David Marty, naturally protective of his player.

“He may weigh 150kg, but he’s a baby.”

Unmatched physicality

Posolo’s father Henry displayed a physicality rarely matched on the pitch, but that was aligned with some severe skills, a deftness in the pass and a turn of speed that belied his imposing size.

France coach Fabien Galthie can only hope Posolo can further his already considerable skills, after having been called up to replace fellow lock Romain Taofifenua on the bench, the latter ruled out with sickness.

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Tuilagi, born in Samoa, represented France at the Under-20 World Cup last year, helping the French to a third successive junior world title.

But his senior debut for France has not come without criticism, Tuilagi qualifying on residency of at least five years. He is still to obtain a French passport, something Bernard Laporte tried to stipulate as essential for a player to turn out for Les Bleus.

Laporte’s reign as president of the French rugby federation lasted from December 2016 until January last year, with current federation vice-president Jean-Marc Lhermet confirming to AFP last month that that stipulation was no longer relevant.

Tuilagi grew up in Perpignan after his father Henry joined Perpignan from Leicester.

Henry Tuilagi went on to play for Perpignan between 2007-15, later settling in the Catalan city after hanging up his boots.

Posolo Tuilagi’s stock is astonishing: he is also the nephew of 59-times capped England centre Manu Tuilagi and former Samoa internationals Freddie, Alesana, Anitelea and Sanel Vavae Tuilagi.

“I’m very proud. It’s big motivation for me on the field, knowing that I have a big family behind me,” said Tuilagi, who made his professional debut for Perpignan in September 2022 and went on to start in six of his 16 Top 14/Challenge Cup appearances in that breakthrough season.

Flank Francois Cros said Tuilagi had a highly unusual profile.

“There aren’t a lot of players like him who have his profile and his power, but he can move, too. That makes him a great weapon for us. He’s very young but he’s going to have a great future in rugby.”

France could soon have another colossus in their ranks.

Galthie had been expected to hand a debut to the equally large lock Emmanuel Meafou (2.03m, 145kg) against Ireland, but the New Zealand-born, Australia-raised player withdrew with a twisted knee.

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