Manu Tuilagi has called for greater support for Pacific Islands stars in Europe, to end the kind of honest mistakes that almost saw him deported from the UK in 2010.
England centre Tuilagi has joined the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) board to help stars of Islands heritage cope with the “culture shock” of adjusting to life in the UK and Europe.
Leicester and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) successfully campaigned to stop Samoa-born Tuilagi being deported over living in the UK for almost six years on an expired holiday visa.
Tuilagi believes a support network like PRPW could have helped avoid the unwitting errors that almost ended his rugby career in England.
“The situation with the visa caught us all out,” Tuilagi told Press Association Sport. “I really didn’t know anything about it at the time.
“Growing up in Samoa we would never have had to deal with paperwork like that, so these are the kinds of problems and issues players can face.
“Things like that could be avoided hopefully, with the extra level of support and guidance that PRPW is aiming to provide.
“Here you’ve got to work and earn your living. Back in Samoa you can live off the land, you don’t pay tax, you own your own house and land. So those are the things you just don’t know anything about when you arrive here.
“It was a big culture shock coming to England, coping with the lifestyle changes, the little things day by day.”
Tuilagi joined his star Leicester Tigers brothers in the East Midlands in 2003, arriving on a holiday visa that was never amended.
The British and Irish Lions centre nearly had his fledgling UK rugby career swept away aged just 19, so knows all about the harsh realities of adjusting to cultural and procedural differences.
Former Samoa, Wasps and London Irish lock Dan Leo launched PRPW to provide practical and moral support to stars of Islands heritage plying their trade in the UK and Europe.
Tuilagi attended the group’s inaugural AGM at Kenilworth Rugby Club in Warwickshire on Sunday, along with England and Wasps number eight Nathan Hughes and Leicester and Australia centre Matt Toomua.
Leicester team-mates Tuilagi and Toomua have joined PRPW’s 14-strong players’ board, and are keen to propel the organisation’s growth.
Chairman Leo will continue visits to Premiership outfits to explain PRPW’s mission, with Tuilagi highlighting the importance of educating both clubs and new arrivals to England on cultural challenges.
“I was lucky because my brothers were here already when I came to England,” said Tuilagi. “But even then I still found it hard to adjust. So it’s massive for me to see Dan [Leo] visiting all the clubs and giving talks, explaining the issues we feel Pacific Islanders are facing.
“Just talking about our culture, and maybe cultural differences that clubs, coaches or other players might not necessarily have known about.
“We can be naturally quiet people. That can sometimes be interpreted that we’re not interested or we don’t care.
“That’s definitely not the case. Often that quietness is our way of showing respect. So if we educate each other on our cultures it could be a huge help. But we can’t just rely on being spoon fed, we’ve got to look at ourselves first and help ourselves, and move forward.”
With more than 80 players of Pacific Islands heritage in the Aviva Premiership and almost 600 across Europe, England star Hughes hailed PRPW’s future impact.
“My first year in England was tough,” said Hughes, who joined Wasps from Auckland in 2013. “I was born in Fiji but although I’d lived in New Zealand for several years it was still hard settling here.
“Hopefully this organisation can achieve a lot, but I’m sure we can definitely help players cope better with that sort of adjustment.”
Leicester centre Toomua tipped PRPW to help English clubs realise the full potential of their Pacific Islands talent.
“I was lucky coming to Leicester from Australia,” said 33-cap Wallabies centre Toomua. “I had a lot of support and that definitely helped. So if we can create an organisation to offer the same support levels to everyone coming here, then everyone benefits.
“It will definitely benefit clubs if guys integrate better and more quickly into the lifestyle.”
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