Makovina Wanangarua I Whanga Nui-Atara VUNIPOLA
England Caps: 9 (6-0-3)
England Points: 0
England Debut: v Fiji (rep) 2012
British & Irish Lions: First Tour
Lions Debut: 01/06/2013 v Barbarians
Test Record v Australia: 1 (0-0-1)
Mako Vunipola is the latest member of an established Tongan rugby dynasty to grab the rugby headlines. Born in Wellington, New Zealand, he was reared in the famous front-row breeding ground of Pontypool. Aged just seven, Vunipola emigrated to Wales when his father Fe’ao, a hooker, signed to play for Pontypool in 1998. Fe’ao went on to win 32 caps for Tonga, including appearances in the 1995 and 1999 Rugby World Cup tournaments.
Mako, and his younger brother Viliami, better known as ‘Billy’, who now plays for London Wasps, grew up in the same household as Wales No 8 Toby Faletau and was raised playing rugby throughout Gwent before attending Millfield School and joining the Bristol Rugby Academy.
He had the option of representing Wales, but chose England, through residency, and appeared for the England Schools U18s alongside his brother. He enjoyed a stunning season in 2010/11 by sharing in the England U20 Grand Slam and their impressive run to the IRB Junior World Championship final.
In 2011, he signed for Saracens, the Premiership champions at the time, from Bristol but a broken metatarsal, followed by a hamstring tear, restricted him to eight Premiership games in his debut season.
He had a spell on loan at Bedford Blues and was elevated to the England Saxons squad last summer before winning his first senior cap against Fiji in November, 2012, as a replacement for Joe Marler. He then played off the bench in seven consecutive matches for England before starting against Italy in March this year.
Remarkably, six of Mako’s uncles and his grandfather represented their native country. Fe’ao was head coach of High Wycombe and then Marlow before returning to Tonga.