- See inside the England U18 shirt presentation with Mako and Billy Vunipola
- Watch England U18 vs Australian Schools live on RFU.com at 1.15pm
Mako and Billy Vunipola visited the England Under 18 camp on the eve of the age-grade side’s meeting with Australian Schools to present the shirts and pass on some of their wisdom on junior international rugby.
The Saracens duo, sparkling graduates of the now well-trodden representative pathway to the England senior set-up, maintain a close relationship with Under 18 head coach John Fletcher and enthusiastically accepted his invitation to address the current crop.
Mako, 22, and Billy, 21, spoke about their international debuts under Fletcher, what it means to wear the red rose on their chests when they play rugby, how they have achieved successes against Australia and how hard work is the best way to unlock any physical gifts they have inherited.
Photo: RFU Archive
Speaking to RFUtv after emerging from the team room at Surrey Sports Park, No.8 Billy said: “It’s a proud moment for these guys and special to share it with them.
“As we’ve been there [at this level] as well it is quite humbling. We told them to enjoy the whole experience, especially playing against Australia.”
Mako added: “Representing your country is a privilege, it’s an honour every time you pull that shirt on. When I was younger we had Jonny Wilkinson come and visit us, which for me was something amazing.
“To be asked to come down here and present those shirts is an honour for me.”
The brothers made an emotional first senior start in the QBE Internationals this autumn, with Billy shedding a tear during the national anthem after standing next to his brother before the 20-13 victory over Australia.
Photo: Getty Images
But as they revealed to the watching England youngsters, two Vunipola forwards playing together for England is nothing new. Mako and Billy first appeared alongside each other for England Under 18 as Fletcher’s side thumped Scotland 63-0 in March 2009, when, despite the “cold weather”, loose head Mako scored a try he joked was so awesome that forwards coach Peter Walton never used the move again.
The senior England coaching set-up, led by Stuart Lancaster, place much emphasis on the character and humility of the players in their squad. Part of that is reminding the players who they represent and invoking memories of their early playing days, a fact not lost on Mako.
He said: “The under 18s was a stepping stone for me and a lot of what I have today is down to the coaches that I had back then and the players that I played with. It’s all part of the process of learning as a young player.
“It’s key that we keep everything from the senior team down to the 16s uniform and that means playing the same way and having players from the senior team coming down to help out when we can.”