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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A kiss and a laugh, Tindall and Tuilagi manage to hide their distress at England's rugby shame

-Pair were all smiles as they re-enacted the notorious nightclub encounter despite continued bad publicity surrounding their antics
-Manu Tuilagi, 20, jumped off a ferry and 'was egged on by other players' after team were dumped out of World Cup by France in New Zealand
-Samoan-born centre hit with £3,000 fine by RFU over incident

By Andrew Levy

Copycat: Manu Tuilagi mimics the kiss from Jessica Palmer on Mike Tindall at Auckland Airport yesterday

Given the scandal it caused, you might think his drunken antics with an old flame would be the last thing Mike Tindall would want to joke about.

Yet as he boarded a plane home from New Zealand yesterday – after England were dumped out of the Rugby World Cup by France at the weekend – he was all smiles as team mate Manu Tuilagi re-enacted the notorious nightclub encounter.

In fact, with their larking about at Auckland airport, the England players had the look of returning champions. They certainly didn’t look like a team ashamed of poor performances on the field and poor behaviour off it.

Embarrassing: While in a New Zealand bar Mike Tindall, the newest member of the royal family, was kissed on the head

Tuilagi’s kiss on his team captain’s head was believed to be a reference to the encounter – captured on a nightclub’s CCTV – with old friend Jessica Palmer.
Tindall, of course, is newly married to Zara Phillips, the Queen’s grand-daughter.

Not that Tuilagi had any reason to be playing the jester. Hours earlier he had been held by police after jumping from the deck of a ferry – the final embarrassment of the trip.

The 20-year-old, who came close to being deported from Britain last year for overstaying his visa, was held in Auckland after he jumped from a ferry as it was about to berth and swam ashore, apparently egged on by other players.

All smiles: Mike Tindall looks happy as he leaves New Zealand after England's disappointing tournament

His antics came after England were knocked out of the World Cup by France at the quarter-final stage and at the end of a team visit to Waiheke Island, which lies 35 minutes by ferry from Auckland, during which the players and management toured vineyards.

It was the latest controversial incident to involve an England player during the team's ill-fated campaign which has seen Mike Tindall caught on CCTV kissing a blonde in a Queenstown nightclub.

Three other players were reprimanded for their actions involving a female member of staff in the team hotel in a separate incident.

Other incidents include the suspension of two players for dangerous play, the suspension of two coaches over ball-switching against Romania and the fining of Tuilagi for wearing a gumshield with unauthorised advertising.

In big trouble: Manu Tuilagi is spoken to by a security officer after jumping off a ferry in Auckland, which ended with him being fined £3,000

Evening swim: Tuilagi, circled, makes his way across the harbour from the ferry as people gathered on deck to watch the prank

Tuilagi - considered by many as England's best player during the tournament - jumped from the catamaran ferry, Superflyte, as it prepared to berth at the Auckland waterfront with the defeated England team on board.

The Samoan-born player swam a short distance to Pier 3 and while there were shouts of encouragement from many passengers on the ferry, the police were not amused and Tuilagi was taken to Auckland Central police station.

He could have been charged with disorderly conduct, but was given a warning and allowed to return to the team hotel.

Tuilagi was later seen with other players out at a bar until the small hours.

Tuilagi was last night fined £3,000 by the Rugby Football Union. England manager Martin Johnson said: ‘This was an irresponsible thing to do. Manu has been disciplined internally and I have warned him about his future conduct.’

Passionate: Manu Tuilagi, centre, with arm across his chest, sings the national anthem with other members of the England team ahead of the quarter-final with France

Tuilagi added: ‘I’m really sorry. It was a silly thing to do and I apologise to everybody for any inconvenience caused.’

Angry officials of the company that operates the ferry said the incident was ‘extremely dangerous’.

Spokesman Warren Fowler said: ‘The ferry had made a turn and was about to reverse to its berth when this happened.

‘It could have been tragic with vessels coming in here and someone jumping off the back of a vessel when it is going to be reversing shortly.’

The prank caps a dismal few weeks for England’s team, where they were criticised for their off-the-pitch antics as much as their woeful on-field performances.

Players and fans were left distraught by a 19-12 loss to France in the quarter-finals on Saturday, ironically with several moments of brilliance from Tuilagi preventing a heavier defeat.

Kick in the teeth: Tuilagi was fined for wearing this gumshield displaying unauthorised sponsorship

Suspended: Tuilagi was banned for five weeks last season for this punch on Northampton and England's Chris Ashton

The young centre is seen as a future star of the world game, but few of his colleagues return to this country with their reputations intact.

Early on in the tour, captain Mike Tindall was caught flirting with a mystery blonde woman – later revealed to be ex-girlfriend Jessica Palmer – in a bar in Queenstown, just weeks after marrying the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips.

Things got worse when three players – Chris Ashton, James Haskell and Dylan Hartley – were forced to apologise to a female hotel worker for lecherous comments.

Tuilagi, whose five older brothers all played rugby for Samoa, last year faced deportation from Britain after it emerged he had entered the country on a tourist visa six years earlier and had stayed on illegally.

He was later granted indefinite leave to remain. Before the World Cup he also hit the headlines for striking England team-mate Chris Ashton during a club match between Tuilagi's Leicester and Northampton. Tuilagi was suspended for the clash.

Centres of attention: England players Mike Tindall, left, and Manu Tuilagi, pictured leaving Heathrow before the World Cup, have both become embroiled in scandal during the tournament

'Just mates mucking around': Mike Tindall and Jessica Palmer were seen drunkenly kissing, but Zara was reassured that nothing untoward happened

Just married: Mike Tindall and Zara Phillips after their wedding in Edinburgh in July



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