MAKO VUNIPOLA has proved his former rugby coaches at Thornbury Broncos and The Castle School right by breaking into the England team this year.

The 20st prop was tipped from a young age to go far in the game and earned a shock call-up to the senior England squad at the age of 21 in November.

He came on as a replacement in all four autumn internationals, making his debut in the 54-12 win over Fiji, and was part of the side that recorded an historic 38-21 victory over world champions New Zealand at the start of this month.

Former England international Duncan Bell, who grew up in Hawkesbury and lives in Chipping Sodbury, announced his retirement in April and the Bath prop also became one of the most high profile people in the sport to speak out about his battle with depression.

Runners Hannah Alderson and Dan Studley have also gained international honours this year at under-23 level.

Tytherington-based Studley finished 38th overall on his England debut in the Burgos Cross Country International in Spain last month, while Alderson of Old Sodbury represented Great Britain for the first time at the prestigious European Cross Country Trials in Budapest, Hungary, earlier this month, although her race was marred by an ankle injury.

Footballer Gary Warren, who grew up in Olveston, has played at Wembley, Celtic Park and Ibrox in a memorable year.

He led Newport County out in the FA Trophy final at Wembley in May, although they lost 2-0 to York City, and one month later moved to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, managed by former England captain Terry Butcher in the Scottish Premier Division.

His time north of the border has already seen him be part of the side that beat Rangers 3-0 in a League Cup tie in October – where he scored – and a 1-0 win at Celtic in November, which was Inverness’ first win there.

Another sports star from Olveston, Paul Nicholls, added the only major prize missing from his trophy cabinet when Neptune Collonges won the Grand National in April to secure the trainers’ trophy for the seventh year in a row.

However, stable star Kauto Star was unable to win a third Gold Cup after winning the race to be fit for the Cheltenham Festival in March and Nicholls announced his retirement in October.

Yate-based motorbike racer Luke Hedger has also had a successful year, clinching the British 125GP Championship with one round to spare at Silverstone.

In golf, Thornbury junior member Charlotte Heeps was named in an England youth squad for the first time in November.