|Weight||130kg (20st 6lb)|
As a member of an established Tongan rugby dynasty, Mako Vunipola is making his own mark on the game and played off the bench in seven consecutive matches for England before starting against Italy in March last year. He stepped up for his Test debut against Fiji in November 2012 after making only 15 Aviva Premiership appearances. He replaced Joe Marler after 46 minutes of the game that brought a 54-12 victory.
Seven months later and with nine Test caps, he made his British & Irish Lions debut against the Barbarians in Hong Kong and completed a remarkable rise to prominence by playing off the bench in the two victories over Australia at Brisbane and Sydney and starting the second Test in Melbourne. He went on to help his captain Chris Robshaw to score a maiden try for England when charging down an intended clearance kick by Australia’s Will Genia at Twickenham last November.
Mako signed for Saracens, the Premiership champions at the time, from Bristol Rugby in readiness for 2011-12, also played on loan for Bedford Blues and was elevated to the England Saxons squad in 2012.
He appeared for England Under 18 alongside his brother Viliami, better known as ‘Billy’, and qualified for England on residency, having been born in Wellington, New Zealand. He has spent more than 11 years here. Their father Fe’ao, a hooker, emigrated to Wales to play for Pontypool in 1998 and won 32 caps for Tonga, including appearances in the 1995 and 1999 RWC. Remarkably, six of Mako’s uncles and his grandfather represented their native country. Fe’ao was head coach of High Wycombe and then Marlow before returning to Tonga.
Mako, who has studied Business and Management at the Open University, was a member of the Bristol Rugby Academy and spent time on loan to Clifton. He was educated at West Monmouth School, Castle School in Bristol and Millfield, having first played when nine at Griffithstown Junior School, near Pontypool before moving on to Newport High School. He said: “I played anywhere I wanted when I was younger but I always knew I would end up in the front row.”
His two years in the England U18 side included tours of Argentina and South Africa with the squad but his outstanding rugby memory in his formative years was beating France 18-0 in the 2008 Six Nations Festival in Cork. Mako added: “We dominated their pack and our backs played great running rugby. It made winning even better because we prevented them from scoring.”
He enjoyed a stunning season in 2010-11 by sharing in the England U20 Grand Slam and their impressive run to the IRB Junior World Championship final. In all, he played 12 times, including matches against Wales, Italy, France, together with Ireland and Scotland, against whom he scored tries. A broken metatarsal, following by a hamstring tear, restricted him to eight Premiership games in his debut season for Saracens but during Mako’s lay-offs Saracens fitness coach Craig McFarlane reduced his body fat percentage while increasing his strength.
2012 Fj(R), A(R), SA(R), NZ(R) 2013 S(R), I(R), F(R), It, W(R), A 2014 F(R), S(R), I(R)
Lions: 2013 A (1R, 2, 3R)
Last updated: February 27, 2014