Mako Vunipola has forced his way into the England autumn internationals 32-man squad after a brilliant start to the season with Saracens to become the latest in a long line of test-playing Vunipola’s.
With loosehead Alex Corbierso out injured and unavailable for at least the first two autumn tests against Fiji and Australia next month the New Zealand-born Vunipola, of Tongan heritage, will join props Dan Cole, Joe Marler and David Wilson in the elite squad.
I understand that Vunipola is ahead of Wilson in the ratings and is certain to be selected for the November 10 Twickenham clash against Fiji, which means there is a very good chance that the 21-year-old will earn his first test cap.
It is an extraordinary rise for the 20 stone forward who impressed when playing for the Grand Slam-winning England Under 20’s team but who endured a torrid first year at Saracens last year after joining from Bristol, which saw him miss much of the season due to a broken metatarsal and then a torn hamstring.
This season he has been at the forefront of Sarries’ impressive start both in the Aviva Premiership and in Europe and it is this form, coupled with Corbierso’s injury, which has given him his chance. Vunipola will thus pip his younger brother, Billy, to a first England cap, after 19-year-old Billy has stood out as a back rower for England age groups and London Wasps.
Both of them have a rich heritage of rugby in their family. Their father, Fe’ao, captained Tonga and won 32 caps whilst they share six uncles and a grandfather who all played for the small, South Sea island. Mako was born in Wellington, New Zealand but unlike his elder family members, has pledged his allegiance to England. Billy has also committed to England.
It will mean, assuming Mako wins his first cap, that he is likely to join Samoan Manu Tuilagi as a Polynesian turned Englishman in the England matchday 22.