Brace yourselves – another Tuilagi has arrived. For 25 years, they’ve been the fearsome first family of Samoan rugby, brothers Freddie, Henry, Alesana, Anitelea and Sanele Vavae all representing their home nation; Manu becoming an England star.
Now it is time to meet the next generation. Having made a couple of appearances off the bench in this Six Nations, Posolo Tuilagi will make his first France start against Italy in Lille, the hulking lock considered a rising star. Still a teenager, Posolo remains eligible for France’s Under 20s, but has already featured prominently in two Top 14 seasons for Perpignan, the club at which father Henry ended his professional playing career.
Born in Samoa, Posolo has been in France since he was three and made his professional debut for Les Sang et Or in September 2022. Weighing nearly 150kg, his stature made him an immediate stand-out, but Tuilagi combines his natural size advantage with the skill that has powered him into the international picture so soon.
Last year, Tuilagi was a vital part of France’s World Rugby U20 Championship-winning age-grade side, scoring twice in a pool stage win over New Zealand and featuring in the final as France secured a third successive crown.
It was thought that this campaign might come too soon for Tuilagi, with France well-stocked at tighthead lock and time on his side. But Emmanuel Meafou’s injury and Romain Taofifenua’s illness have opened the door for Tuilagi’s inclusion as Paul Willemse’s back-up.
It was thought that lock might not be his long-term position. Tuilagi is atypically sized for the second row, shorter and squatter than most, and thus not necessarily a lineout option. A move to prop has been mooted, though France coach Fabien Galthie admitted last week that Tuilagi did not desire a switch, while some feel that Tuilagi may in time have more impact at number eight.
But it is at lock that he has got his first crack. Tuilagi was not initially included in Galthie’s Six Nations squad, but has benefitted from an agreement between the French union and the Top 14 clubs that allows six supplementary players to join up with the national team and train each week.
“Posolo is ready,” said William Servat, France’s scrum coach, ahead of his debut in the Ireland opener. “He has spent part of the week training with us. We were able to keep him until Wednesday; in this time, he fitted in well and was able to take part in all phase-play training.
“We spent a bit more time with him today on the line-out, with Laurent [Sempéré, line-out coach] but off the back of what he has been able to produce in training and in matches for the under-20s, it is only natural that he should take Romain’s place.”
Described as a “lorry” by versatile back Yoram Moefana, Tuilagi’s new international teammates are obviously excited by the 19-year-old’s potential. “It’s a rare profile,” says flanker François Cros. "There aren’t a lot of players like him who have his profile and his power, but he can move, too. He’s really a great weapon for us. He’s still very young and he will have a bright future in rugby."
Posolo has become the eighth Tuilagi to play internationally. Dad Henry played ten times for Samoa between 2002 and 2009, and like the rest of his brothers featured regularly for Leicester. Their sibling Julie does not play rugby – they identify as fa’afafine, a third gender or non-binary role in Samoan society. Manu, the youngest brother, was born in Samoa but elected to represent England and could square off against his nephew in the final round after recovering from injury.