Billy Vunipola climbed off the bench to make his England debut against Argentina on their 2013 summer tour and in his short time on the field bulldozed over for his maiden international try.
That was no surprise to any hardened observers who have followed Viliami, better known as Billy, through the ranks to become the heartbeat of the Red Rose pack under both Stuart Lancaster and subsequently Eddie Jones.
Born in Sydney and the son of former Tongan international Fe’ao, Billy and his brother Mako qualify for England through residency.
Billy was educated at the Castle School, Bristol, and then Harrow and soon broke into the England U18 ranks.
There he showed a knack for try-scoring with scores in successive matches against Italy and Wales to help England extend their victorious run to 19 matches before the 23-17 defeat by South Africa in the four-team tournament in July 2010.
A former member of the Wasps Academy, Billy was brought into the England U20 squad for the 2012 IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa as a replacement for Matt Kvesic, who had undergone surgery on a shoulder injury.
A year later and he was in Argentina for his senior debut and that memorable score in Salta. And since then he has gone from strength to strength.
He joined Saracens from Wasps for 2013-14 and made his first Test start, alongside his brother Mako, in the 20-13 win over Australia at Twickenham in November 2013.
The presence of the Vunipolas and the Youngs brothers in that match was the first instance in 114 years of two pairs of brothers playing in the same England game.
The only previous time that it happened was when the Stout brothers – Percy and Frank – and the Davidsons – Jos and Jas – featured in the 5-0 defeat by Scotland at Blackheath in 1899.
Billy won his first eight Test caps consecutively from then before injury ruled him out of the Wales’ match at Twickenham in March 2014.
He remained a key cog under Lancaster up to and including the 2015 Rugby World Cup – the No 8 scoring a try off the bench in their tournament opener against Fiji.
But injury again curtailed his involvement thereafter but he bounced back with a bang in 2016.
Appointed as one of three vice captains to Dylan Hartley in the new Jones era, Billy was pivotal to their historic Grand Slam win with man of the match displays against Scotland, Ireland and France.
He then helped the Red Rose to a white-wash 3-0 win in Australia, a first-ever in England’s history, including a vital try in Sydney in the third Test.
His club form for Saracens continued to catch the eye as well, Saracens storming to back-to-back European crowns in 2016 and 2017.
Injury struck to limit his involvement to just two games in the 2017 Six Nations as England made it consecutive Championships and then shoulder surgery denied him the chance to tour with the British & Irish Lions to New Zealand.
2018 was a similar story as knee and arm injuries kept him on the sidelines but he returned at the end of the season in time to earn selection for England’s summer tour to South Africa.
30 points – 6T
2013 Arg (1R, 2R), A, Arg, NZ 2014 F, S, I, NZ (2R,3), NZ, SA 2015 W, It, I, S, F, F, I(R) World Cup - Fj(R), W 2016 S, It, I, W, F, A(1,2,3), SA, Fj, Arg 2017 S(R), I 2018 SA (1,2)
Last updated: 19 June 2018