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Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints, Aviva Premiership Final
Manoa graduates from mean streets to final
ESPN Staff
May 25, 2013
Northampton Saints' Samu Manoa crashes forward against Castres, Northampton Saints v Castres, Heineken Cup, Franklin's Gardens, Northampton, England, January 11, 2013
Samu Manoa has helped propelled Saints into their first ever Premiership final © PA Photos

Northampton Saints No.8 Samu Manoa has revealed how he turned his back on the street gang culture of San Francisco to carve out a career as one of the most devastating enforcers on the rugby stage.

The 6ft 6in and 19st powerhouse has been a key figure in Saints run to a first-ever Premiership final with his physicality in his side's semi-final upset of Saracens in particular earning him rave reviews. But it could have been so different for the 28-year-old had he not escaped the troubles of his youth.

"I was young and dumb. It was just neighbourhood," Manoa told The Times. "The whole area was like that. It wasn't Samoans against Tongans, it was you rep your city or you rep your street and that was it. People better respect it. If nobody respect it, then...

"I always think about it. I'm blessed to be here and blessed not to be there," he added, in his slow drawl.

"I got boys who had problems back then but are doing real good now. There are still youngsters there trying to act the fool but, like I said, I'm real glad to be here and enjoy this. That's why I'm running this academy back home. I'm trying to get all the youngsters to play and let them know that there is stuff you can do with rugby."

Manoa's rugby journey began with the San Francisco Golden Gate club and his form soon caught the eye of USA Eagles coach Eddie O'Sullivan who handed him his debut in 2010. A move to Northampton followed in 2011 and O'Sullivan regrets not being able to deploy Manoa during the Eagles' World Cup campaign in New Zealand.

"Rugby was his epiphany," O'Sullivan told the newspaper. "Northampton has been his passport to a better life. You can't begrudge him that. He is one of the most phenomenal athletes I have ever come across. It wasn't always easy to keep tabs on him, but he has every attribute, plus the extra dimension of being physically and mentally tough.

"I am only sorry he didn't feature at the World Cup. He would have been a revelation and would have had had the world knocking at his door. He is so good he could have been an All Black."

Reflecting on his crowd-pleasing approach to the game, Manoa said: "I like to hit people and run the ball. I don't mean to hurt them, but whoever is in front of me, I'm going to give you what I've got. I'm not scared of any player. Even if you're bigger than me, I'm still going to put a shoulder in and if I get bumped, I get bumped, but you aren't going to run by me."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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