Tonga's cancer beater gets his moment at Rugby World Cup

GERALD IMRAY (AP Sports Writer)
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Tonga's Sam Lousi is held aloft as he wins a lineout during the Rugby World Cup Pool C game at Sapporo Dome between England and Tonga in Sapporo, Japan, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

SAPPORO, Japan (AP) -- There were times not long ago when Nasi Manu was too sick and weak from the chemotherapy to walk up the steps at a stadium and watch a game of rugby. On Sunday, he played in a Rugby World Cup match.

Manu got his moment off the bench in Tonga's opening game of the World Cup against England in Sapporo.

Tonga lost 35-3 but got some inspiration by seeing the loose forward come off the bench to complete his recovery from testicular cancer that saw him undergo emergency surgery, months of chemotherapy and miss all international rugby last year and most of this season.

It was Manu's first game back for Tonga since his cancer diagnosis and his wife and two-year-old daughter came to Japan to watch him.

''The whole day has been very difficult for me, just controlling the nerves,'' Manu said. ''I couldn't sleep last night, I just got too excited. I was telling my wife that I didn't know what to do. I packed my bags five times.''

Manu shed tears at a welcoming ceremony for the Tongan team at the World Cup last week. He said the tears flowed after he realized how far he'd come from last year, when he was fearing for his life and his rugby career was secondary.

There were more when he lined up and sang Tonga's national anthem on Sunday.

''They were plenty of them, but then I had to calm down,'' he said.

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said he's planning to give Manu a gentle introduction back to international rugby and manage his game time.

''We all knew as a group that this was important for him,'' Kefu said. ''I just had a chat to him and he said he was very tired, he needed more game time, and his lungs were gone.

''But I reassured him, I said 'Mate, you're lucky to be back out on the field.' I think that's the first step.

''But knowing Nasi, he's a very competitive person and he wants to give 100 percent,'' Kefu said. ''He's a good player on and off the field. An important member for us.''

Manu said his ''legs were gone'' and he had to battle it out to play the rest of the 33 minutes he was on the field.

''No fitness can prepare you for that. I have achieved my dream of playing in a World Cup whatever happens and I have so many people I can thank for getting me here.

''I can't say names because I am afraid I will miss some out.''

Some of the people Manu has already thanked are his teammates at Italian club Benetton Treviso who shaved their heads in support of him when he was undergoing chemotherapy and sent him cellphone videos to keep his spirits up. His club also helped him get treatment.

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