|Weight||126kg (19st 11lb)|
A last-minute try on his Test debut showed how Viliami “Billy” Vunipola has moved on swiftly from his days as an England U20 player in 2012 when he appeared four times in the IRB Junior World Championship. His landmark touchdown from a scrum, along with a conversion from Freddie Burns, completed England’s 32-3 triumph over Argentina in Salta on June 8, 2013. Billy also played off the bench for Ben Morgan when England completed a 2-0 series win a week later in Buenos Aires.
He had already scored a stunning hat-trick of tries in the opening tour match against the CONSUR XV at Montevideo. The England XV won 41-21 and his scores came in a six-minute spell during the first half. He joined Saracens from London Wasps for 2013-14 and made his first Test start, alongside his brother Mako, in the 20-13 win over Australia at Twickenham in November.
The presence of the Vunipolas and the Youngs in that match was the first instance in 114 years of two pairs of brothers playing in the same England game. The only previous time that it happened was when the Stout brothers – Percy and Frank – and the Davidsons – Jos and Jas – featured in the 5-0 defeat by Scotland at Blackheath in 1899.
No stranger to the art of try-scoring, he did just that in successive matches against Italy and Wales to help England U18 extend their victorious run to 19 international matches before the 23-17 defeat by hosts South Africa in the four-team tournament in July 2010. He was vice-captain to Chris Walker on the tour and appeared in all three games.
Sydney-born Billy was brought into the England U20 squad for the 2012 IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa as a replacement for Matt Kvesic, who had undergone surgery on a shoulder injury. Billy is part of a distinguished Tongan rugby dynasty; his brother, Mako, who has 15 England caps, toured Australia with the 2013 British & Irish Lions, having also been a member of the national U20 squad.
Their father Fe’ao, a hooker, won 32 caps for his country, figured in the 1995 and 1999 World Cups, played for Pontypool and was head coach at Marlow, a South West One East club before taking charge of the Tonga U20 squad.
Six of Billy’s uncles and his grandfather also represented Tonga. The two brothers previously played alongside each other in the England U18 team and their careers have progressed from there.
Billy, like Mako, qualifies for England through residency and his favourite ground is Twickenham. He said: “The atmosphere is crazy.” His maiden try was on his Premiership debut against Leeds Carnegie in April 2011 and he has made 42 appearances in the competition.
Educated at the Castle School, Bristol, he went on to Harrow to study Photography, Design Technology, Physical Education and Business with aspirations of becoming a world-renowned photographer.
A former member of the London Wasps Academy, he played for Bristol in 2007-08 and has benefited from the England U18 coaching team of John Fletcher and Peter Walton. He added: “Both have shown great belief and brought me through even though I thought I was just average. The players I most admire are those who are humble and hard-working such as George Ford, the England U18 captain four years ago.”
Billy won his first eight Test caps consecutively before missing the Wales’ match at Twickenham last March through an ankle ligament injury, having been the top ball carrier on either side in both of England’s first two RBS Six Nations Championship matches this year. He made 17 carries against France at Stade de France and 16 against Scotland at Murrayfield the following week before reaching the landmark of ten caps in a year when playing twice against New Zealand in June.
5 points – 1T
2013 Arg (1R, 2R), A, Arg, NZ 2014 F, S, I, NZ (2R,3)
Last updated: June 24, 2014