THORNBURY is celebrating after two brothers who grew up in the town were called into the senior England rugby squad yesterday.
Mako Vunipola has been officially promoted from the Saxons to the Elite Player Squad, while Billy was named in the 32-man Saxons squad for the first time but will train with the senior set-up in the lead up to the Six Nations as Leicester flanker Tom Croft continues his return from an eight-month neck injury.
Saracens prop Mako, who turns 22 this Sunday, made his England debut against Fiji in November and 20-year-old Billy has been tipped to follow in his footsteps after some impressive performances for Wasps in the Aviva Premiership this season.
PE teacher Lloyd Spacey, who coached them both at The Castle School and is in regular contact with their father, is not surprised that both have gained international recognition so soon.
He said: “We are all tremendously proud of what they have achieved, they’ve really put the school on the map for rugby. We wish them the best for the future.”
Mako and Billy lived in Thornbury from a young age after their dad Fea’o, who captained Tonga, joined Welsh side Pontypridd, but when their parents moved away from the area in 2009 Billy joined the Wasps Academy and has worked his way up quickly.
The No 8 made his debut in an LV=Cup match against Harlequins in Abu Dhabi two years ago and has become a first team regular this season, making 16 appearances for the London giants and attracting interest from a number of rival clubs.
Despite the two-year age gap, Billy has never been far behind Mako. He got special dispensation to play in the older age group with his brother at Thornbury Broncos due to his size and also played with him for England at under-18 and under-20 level after winning early call-ups.
The requirement for an eight-man replacements’ bench during the Six Nations means that the senior squad has been extended to 33 with Mako graduating from the Saxons as the additional player.
Mako and Billy will meet up with the senior squad for the training camp in Leeds starting on Sunday, January 20 with the Six Nations opener against Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday, February 2.
The Saxons face Ireland Wolfhounds in Galway on Friday, January 25.
The last time two brothers represented the senior England side was against Italy in February 2010 when Delon and Steffon Armitage played together.