The Pumas call Santiago Chocobares ‘Shot’, after the Andean confectionery that comes from the Argentine city of San Carlos de Bariloche.
The teak-hard centre also happens to be the one usually firing Argentina’s salvos through massive tackling, quickly becoming a physical barometer for Michael Cheika’s side.
Tuilagi has clearly been eating his apple a day, the Sale powerhouse managing to keep the doctor away to arrive at this World Cup in top shape.
The 32-year-old has had all the rest he can cope with, after an injury-plagued few years; now he is ready to play, and his brutal aggression added immediate weight to England’s campaign.
Tuilagi’s monster hit on Chocobares set a towering tone for England’s 27-10 victory here in the south of France on Saturday that washed away an August of rancour and regret and help set up a Pool D campaign promising substance and supremacy.
A torn pubis nearly ended Tuilagi’s career way back in 2014. The Samoa-born centre hid that injury from Leicester’s medics initially, taping his groin muscle tight until a physio asked him what the hell he was doing.
Tuilagi has been battling with hamstring and knee problems ever since, but now knows exactly how to put his body together for the stresses and strains of Test rugby.
There have been countless times over the years where England’s coaches, players and supporters — and Tuilagi himself — have feared he would never make it back to this level of open-eyed fury.
But now that he is back crashing it up the middle, Tuilagi opted to name-check one of his favourite Drake bangers to explain how he has coped with all those setbacks.
“It’s God’s plan, mate, no one knows,” said Tuilagi. “But, for me, I know that to get myself right I’ve got to put in the work. That’s on me, that’s on us as a team. Work. No matter what happens, you keep going on.”
England will hope to manifest another of the Canadian rapper’s works at this World Cup: Started from the bottom, now we’re here. England have definitely arrived at this World Cup; the players turned up fully for the first time in Steve Borthwick’s tenure to subdue the Pumas.
England have definitely arrived at this World Cup; the players turned up fully for the first time in Steve Borthwick’s tenure
Argentina were curiously undercooked, but England not only dispatched them with something to spare, they did so a man short. Tom Curry’s red card in the third minute had England under the cosh from the off, but at times they appeared to boast the numerical advantage.
Courtney Lawes led with a performance as inspired as it was indomitable; Maro Itoje roared back to his best; and Tuilagi delivered a thunderous display.
George Ford blew them all away, though, by taking England back to the old school. Ford ran the show in timeless fashion, slotting three drop goals in seven first-half minutes and landing an unerring six penalties, to boot. Tuilagi was left in no doubt on the qualities of “our kid” Ford, his ‘younger brother’ in the north at Sale.
Asked what makes Ford so special, Tuilagi replied: “Everything. He’s a mastermind. He lives and breathes rugby — he loves it. You can’t slack off just because it went well or went badly. You have to believe in the process, then go out there and free yourself up — and you saw that in our kid.”
England still cannot fix their problems in the three-quarter channels when on the ball, but if they keep on partying like it’s 1999, maybe it will not matter. Ford was the prince among men on Saturday night, in a veritable purple patch with the ball on a string.
The Sale talisman delivered a fine impression of Jannie De Beer, who landed a record five drop goals as South Africa dumped England out of the 1999 World Cup.
Fashion always ebbs and flows, but England are playing rugby from an age of analogue TV, when the iPhone was still years away. The gameplan is not quite dial-up internet, but neither is it smartphones and streaming services.
Ford has had top-level performances of this magnitude in his locker since he was 16 and bossing hardened, senior pros around at Leicester. The 30-year-old has always played second fiddle to Owen Farrell with England, but his performance on Saturday sets up a collision course.
The suspended Farrell will miss the Japan game on Sunday but will be back for the third encounter against Chile. Borthwick will have to decide whether to restore Farrell at fly-half, or even to pair the two up again at 10 and 12, as in 2019. In a further extension of the retro theme, England could well just keep turning back to the future.