Billy Vunipola and brother Mako can hold key to England’s Six Nations hopes

It wasn’t all brotherly love and mutual admiration when the Vunipola boys joined forces for England at Murrayfield last Saturday. Billy’s attempts to encourage Mako didn’t go down well. He was met by the ‘death stare’.

Days after being named as one of three vice-captains in the national team, 23-year-old No 8 Billy was named man of the match for his rampaging display in the 15-9 RBS 6 Nations win over Scotland.
But Mako, the older sibling by two years, was not prepared to be totally eclipsed, so the prop emerged from the bench to reinforce England’s previously shaky scrum and help conjure a try for Jack Nowell with a sublime ‘out the back’ pass to Owen Farrell.

All in all, it was a triumphant occasion for the giant Anglo-Tongan forwards who are becoming increasingly influential both for Saracens and their adoptive country. In fact, England’s new head coach Eddie Jones declared that Billy has all the credentials to become the world’s best player in his position.
His exploits brought a torrent of acclaim, but they didn’t spare him when he tried to galvanise his brother.
‘I always try and gee him up in the scrums but I can see he’s angry at me and telling me to shut up,’ said Billy. ‘I’m just trying to help him. He helps me whenever I’m carrying the ball.

Mako Vunipola, not to be out-done by his brother, gave a perfect out-the-back pass to Owen Farrell

‘It’s good fun playing with your brother. Not many people get to do it at international level. He’s definitely got better skills than I have — he’s more comfortable with ball in hand. For him to come on and put it out the back (to Farrell) was great, but he also did very well in the scrums.’

Mako confirmed that he was not best pleased to receive a set-piece pep talk, adding: ‘I try to focus on my job so when people tap me on the back or get in my ear it puts me off a bit.
‘If Billy does that, I give him the death stare, but sometimes we are blowing and you need that energy from the back five.

‘I was disappointed not to be starting but Eddie has always told us that it is a 23-man squad and everyone who came off the bench made an impact. The biggest thing for me was to scrum well but it was lucky I got the call from Owen and the pass went to his hands.’

Mako admitted that he gave his brother a ‘death stare’ when Billy’s encouragement put him off his game

So much of the post-match focus was on Billy Vunipola, and rightly so. He was the outstanding figure in the midst of a disjointed, untidy contest. His powerful ball-carrying was England’s trump card.
Just as significant was the fact that he lasted the full 80 minutes of a full-throttle Test match, something previously beyond him. He is also happy about the England environment these days, after claiming that it had been too sterile and joyless during the World Cup.

Asked about the new man in charge, he said: ‘I respond more to the love and compassion he shows the boys, me especially. He is very personable.
‘He has been really good for me since he came in. He has filled me with confidence and that is something I thrive on.

‘I don’t need someone to shout at me. I know what I have to do. I just need someone to reassure me and look after me.’

Billy Vunipola
Billy celebrates with his back-row team-mates Chris Robshaw (left) and James Haskell, with the Calcutta Cup.

Jones has relaxed the off-field restrictions on the England players since he took over; allowing them to go out together for dinner and share a few beers from time to time.
Having bemoaned the lack of such socialising opportunities under Stuart Lancaster, Billy said: ‘It works better when you have a relationship with someone rather than just rocking up and playing for England.
‘We have had a few bonding sessions. It’s important for me to know what someone else is about, what motivates them; whether it’s their family or scoring tries. It’s something you can’t really measure or see but I definitely think it works. I’m enjoying being with the boys and being in camp.’

On Sunday, Billy will be pitched into a duel with Sergio Parisse. He described Italy’s talismanic captain as ‘awesome’ — despite his ill-judged drop-goal attempt in Paris last weekend — adding: ‘He can probably do what he wants!’
For now, England’s No 8 is not going to try to emulate the great Italian stride for stride and off-load for off-load, instead limiting himself to modest targets. ‘At the moment I’m just trying to stay in the team,’ he said.
‘I’m working every day to get better and try and get closer to those who are at the top. Toby (Faletau, his cousin) as well. They’re very good players and I want to be in that bracket but I’ve got to keep doing what I do — trying to get over the gainline.’
If Billy and Mako keep doing what they do, they could have a profound impact on the outcome of this Six Nations campaign.

Daily Mail

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