THORNBURY RFC are celebrating an historic achievement after their most famous players were both included in the British and Irish Lions squad that will tour New Zealand this summer.
Billy and Mako Vunipola have been selected in the 41-man squad by Lions coach Warren Gatland, announced on Wednesday lunchtime, as has Gloucester’s back row ace Ross Moriarty.
The Vunipola brothers only visited Thornbury, where they learnt their rugby as teenagers, in February for the first time in a while.
Their cousin, Bath and Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau, has also been included in the squad which will see him battle for the Test jersey with Billy Vunipola. There will be massive competition for back row places as well because Wales flanker Sam Warburton has been named as the Lions captain.
Thornbury RFC chairman Mike Tinney said: “We are immensely proud. As a small club, to have played a part in this and helped the Vunipolas rugby career makes us absolutely delighted that they are on what is probably the toughest Lions tour.
“It’s a great accolade for the club and particularly in this year where they have both performed so well in the Autumn Internationals, got injured and then returned to the Six Nations and made dramatic impacts.”
Tinney said the club would be open early every morning – and particularly for the Test matches – so that Thornbury fans can watch the Vunipolas tackle the world champions down under.
Tinney hopes the appearance of the brothers can help inspire someone else from the club to make the grade in top level rugby.
“To see our junior teams playing in the finals of the Gloucestershire Cup is something to behold. A lot of them have these two players to look up to and it shows what can be done from a small town like Thornbury.”
And there is an open invitation for the Vunipolas to make another visit to Thornbury in the future – this time with their Lions jerseys in tow.
British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand is: Forwards: Rory Best, Dan Cole, Taulupe Faletau, Tadhg Furlong, Jamie George, Iain Henderson, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler, Jack McGrath, Ross Moriarty, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Ken Owens, Kyle Sinckler, CJ Stander, Justin Tipuric, Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Sam Warburton.
Backs: Dan Biggar, Elliot Daly, Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Leigh Halfpenny, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart Hogg, Jonathan Joseph, Conor Murray, George North, Jack Nowell, Jared Payne, Jonathan Sexton, Tommy Seymour, Ben Te’o, Anthony Watson, Rhys Webb, Liam Williams, Ben Youngs