Tuilagi, who turns 31 this month, played the full 80 minutes of Sale Sharks’ European Champions Cup defeat at Racing 92 on Sunday, complete with a surging first-half try, in his fourth match back since he strained a hamstring training with England on the eve of the Six Nations game with Wales in late February.
It meant the powerful centre missed the entire Six Nations as he had been ruled out of England’s opening two rounds while recovering from a hamstring tear in the November win over South Africa.
And Sale have fielded their prized midfield asset just 10 times this season – with director of rugby Alex Sanderson pleading after Tuilagi’s most recent setback for the medical and coaching staffs of club and country to be more aligned with each other.
Now Tuilagi has made it clear he needs to be stricter on himself to ensure the correct physical management between matches, as he continues a brilliant career pockmarked by half a dozen serious injuries, and restricted to 46 England caps since 2010.
“Just to keep playing – that’s what I want to do, is play week in, week out,” Tuilagi said. “I think sleep is a big thing for me. I used to sleep really late. For an athlete you need, for me, at least seven hours. So that’s what I looked at when the latest ‘hammy’ happened.”
A conversation with his wife, Chantelle, distilled the problem. “I was talking to her, saying to her about how I woke up 20 minutes, 30 minutes before we had the walk-throughs and then you get into training. I am saying to her sometimes it’s actually hard, you have to take ownership of it and be honest with yourself, because only you know what’s happened. And my wife is saying, ‘you’re an athlete, you’ve got to sleep’. We had that chat and then you’ve just got to be honest with yourself.”
Tuilagi admitted that with two young children, getting the correct rest at the correct time was not easy, and he is thankful to Chantelle for taking charge of the night-time duties.
“As an athlete sometimes you get too excited and you just want to be out there on the field,” Tuilagi said. “And you ignore what your body is telling you. You’ve just got to listen to it. Because if your body says no, you can’t do anything.
“I am really thankful for those injuries that I came through. In life you are definitely going to go through some hard times, and that’s a good thing, because you can only learn from that, as a feeling. You can’t learn from someone else’s mistakes, because you don’t feel it. But when you have that [yourself], you’ve got to embrace it.
“It’s not good at the time but you look back and think ‘yeah, it was good, that.’”