December 13 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe
Friday, September 6, 2013
Billy Vunipola is hoping to follow in his big brother’s footsteps by making an impact with Saracens and England following his move from Wasps this summer.
Sarries prop Mako Vunipola, 22, had played just 15 games for the club when he made his Test debut against Fiji last November – and his dramatic rise culminated in a role in the British and Irish Lions’ victorious tour to Australia.
He has now been joined at Allianz Park by his younger sibling Viliami – better known as Billy – who is already making his mark at international level.
The 20-year-old No8 scored on his Test debut during the summer tour to Argentina, and he admits his brother’s advice about the breakthrough into international rugby came in handy.
“I was pretty nervous going into it but his advice was to just try to keep calm,” said Billy. “I think that’s one of the best pieces of advice he’s ever given me.
“I don’t really like to speak to him about the Lions because it gets his head going a little bit.
“It’s a massive achievement for him and our family and when he made the squad I congratulated him straight away, but after that I just said ‘good luck’ before the games he was involved in. That’s just the way we are.”
The Vunipola brothers, who previously played alongside each other for England’s Under-18 team, could now line up together again at Twickenham this weekend for the London Double Header curtain-raiser against London Irish.
“It’s pretty cool,” Billy said. “One of the best things about [being at the same club] is that I don’t drive, so I’ve got a personal taxi driver to take me to training. But one of the big reasons for coming here was to be with my brother and it was a family decision.
“We haven’t actually been on the pitch at the same time yet but just being around him every day is really cool.”
Judging by his bulldozing debut in a pre-season friendly romp against Cornish Pirates two weeks ago, and a similar outing against Bedford Blues at the weekend, there is much for Saracens fans to look forward to – and likewise for England supporters should he force his way into national head coach Stuart Lancaster’s thinking.
Asked if the Red Rose chief had given him any indication of his selection chances this season, Billy said: “He’s got quite a good poker face, as you can see on TV. He just wants everyone to compete for the position rather than expect it to be theirs.
“He wants people like me, who are probably not in the starting team, to push the people that are as hard as we can. Looking forward, I’ve just got to try to get into the squad again.
“I fulfilled a boyhood dream [making my debut] but it was the beginning of the start, I hope.
“It was just really exciting to be in the squad in the first place. To be named in the EPS [Elite Player Squad] is good but I need to push to get into that 23-man squad.”
First, he is focused on making the grade at Saracens, where he has serttled quickly.
“On a personal note the summer’s been good,” Billy continued. “I’m just finding the environment really good to be in. I was a bit nervous coming into it but all the boys were really welcoming and I’m just excited to start the season.”
So is forwards coach, Alex Sanderson, who said: “If you fabricate an opportunity where Billy gets a one-one-one then he’ll break that tackle every time.
“He’s unbelievably powerful for a ball carrier. On that back of that his work-rate is very good as well – he gets around the park and makes his tackles.
“We are lucky to have Billy on board but we’ve got six good back rowers, so he’s going to rotate with Ernst Joubert and Jacques Burger. That’s like having another international signing because in the last three weeks he’s been inspirational.
“You need an edge in your pack. You need someone who’s hard and physical and he brings that.”
Billy was involved in last year’s London Double Header when his Wasps side were beaten by a last-gasp kick as Harlequins came back from a record 27-point deficit.
That was a rather more even contest that Sarries’ 40-3 victory over London Irishin the other match – and the same sides will face each other on the opening day this weekend.
However, the Saracens new boy does not expect the Exiles to be such a pushover.
“We just need to get a good start because I think Irish will be strong this year,” he said. “I know people are putting them down but you can never underestimate anyone in the Premiership and that’s why it’s such a good competition.
“They’ve got [Saracens wing Michael] Tagicakibau’s brother [Sailosi], Chris Hala’ufia and some really strong players.
“You just can’t go into the game thinking you’ve already won it because that’s where people come unstuck. We don’t want to be a team that underestimates people.”