How immigrants helped England’s Rugby World Cup success - Christa Ackroyd

England player Ben Youngs celebrates his try with Manu Tuilagi and George Ford (r) which is later disallowed during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Semi-Final match between England and New Zealand Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
England player Ben Youngs celebrates his try with Manu Tuilagi and George Ford (r) which is later disallowed during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Semi-Final match between England and New Zealand Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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England expects, or rather dares to dream of two sporting world cups in a year. What an amazing performance by our rugby team against the All Blacks.

Heroes everyone of them for playing their hearts out for their country. Only for some it wasn’t their country of birth but their country of choice.

Of the 20 teams competing in Japan there were 138 players representing countries they were not born in. The Vinipola brothers could have represented Tonga through ancestry, New Zealand (Mako) or Australia (Billy) through birth.

They chose England through the residency rules but they could have chosen Wales. You will not hear a single complaint from a sports fan about where they were born or why they came here. Because they are winners who give their all and give us a chance of sporting glory.

Heroes everyone of them for playing their hearts out for their country.

Only for some it wasn’t their country of birth but their country of choice. Of the 20 teams competing in Japan there were 138 players representing countries they were not born in.

The Vinipola brothers could have represented Tonga through ancestry, New Zealand (Mako) or Australia (Billy) through birth. They chose England through the residency rules but they could have chosen Wales. You will not hear a single complaint from a sports fan about where they were born or why they came here. Because they are winners who give their all and give us a chance of sporting glory.

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Manu Tuilagi was my man of the match. His try in less than two minutes set the tone for the entire game. We screamed in disbelief as the six foot 17-stone man mountain crossed the line. But we should look back at his story which must strike a chord with all of us this week and not just because of his sporting brilliance.

Manu came to this country from Samoa when he was 13 years old to join his five older brothers all of them rugby players. When he arrived he could barely speak English. By his own admission the language barrier was tough, as was the very different culture from that he had left behind. He was called up to the England under 16s under the three year residency rules.

But then the Home Office discovered he had come to England on a six month tourist visa. His leave to remain was turned down and he faced deportation as an illegal immigrant. A campaign by his club, fans and MPs led to him being given indefinite leave to stay and the rest as the cliche goes is history.

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Every month Manu sends money back home to Samoa. He knows a sporting career is short and he invests much of his reported £450,000 a year salary with Leicester Tigers but says “that comes after money you’ve sent back home.” And everyone would say good on him looking after his family and supporting his church.

So why does his story resonate so strongly with me this week? Because in so many ways it is not unlike the story of those poor unfortunate souls who perished in the back of a frozen lorry container. As their individual names were revealed their families back home in Vietnam also spoke of them coming to this country for a better life.

Most of them were driven by their desire to help their families by sending them money. We would probably have never heard of them as they disappeared into the black economy had it not been for their tragic end, but their aim was exactly the same as Manu Tuilagi, to give themselves and their families a future they could only dream of.

This year I visited Vietnam. By Asian standards it is a country on the up. It’s economy in the cities at least is booming. It’s universities are flourishing and it’s industry growing. But still the average wage is less than £500 a month, considerably less in the villages many of which were destroyed by bombing in the well documented war that we should remember only ended 50 years ago. Four million Vietnamese were killed or wounded and the land is still littered with some of the 21 million bomb craters which along with chemical weapons destroyed much of the rural economy. Small wonder the new generation with its Western influences should see Britain as the promised land.

I would never suggest opening our borders to everyone. But for those who want to work hard for themselves and for us there has to be a better way. Few Vietnamese can come here with the financial backing that is part of the criteria for entry. But if they can prove, like Manu Tuilagi has done, that they can add value with hard work and dedication surely we should look at them in a more sympathetic light. I do not want to be a country that endures another harrowing week like this one, who has to read about young people risking their lives for a better life among us. There is room here for those who are not here to scrounge or take advantage of the benefits system. They add to our culture, to our show of strength, to our image as a country with compassion.

So remember when your are screaming on England’s Rugby team on Saturday one of them was once deemed an illegal immigrant. And look at what he has achieved both for us and for his family back home.