Six Nations: Italy braced for a double helping of Vunipolas when they play England at Twickenham

Mako and Billy are both poised to feature for England – and they are hungry for some action

If England's opponents regard the selection of one Vunipola in the red-rose pack as deeply unfortunate, two Vunipolas will amount to a conspiracy. Much to their consternation, this is the shape – a very large shape – of things to come. Mako, the 20st Saracens prop, has already made his substantial presence felt at international level, although the Tongan has yet to start a Test for the country he now calls his own. Brother Billy, the uncapped Wasps back-rower who thinks he may just be the heavier of the two these days, is not far behind in the pecking order.

Both have played a significant part in England's planning for this weekend's Six Nations meeting with Italy at Twickenham, with Mako among those widely tipped for promotion to the starting line-up – the Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees, the Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care, the Leicester hooker Tom Youngs and the Wasps flanker James Haskell being the others – and Billy in the running for a breakthrough appearance on the bench. Pity the poor Azzurri. They must be dreading it.

The Vunipolas have not faced each other in anger since their mid-teens – had they done so, seismologists around the world would surely have noticed – but they have been the talk of the coaching community for years. The rapid rise through the ranks may have bewildered both men, but those age-group selectors who first saw them throwing their pounds and ounces around the playing fields of England are not surprised in the least. They felt that if the two of them could get themselves fit, they were racing certainties for top honours.

"We were definitely heavier then than we are now – and definitely bigger than most kids our age," said the 22-year-old Mako. "It was our under-18s coach, Neil Taylor, who said we'd have to shed some pounds if we wanted to play at a high level."

Twenty-year-old Billy then put some flesh on the bone, so to speak. "We went through a spell of not having breakfast or lunch, but coming home after training and feasting on whatever food was quickest to hand. Bread, potatoes… that kind of thing. We were big on the carbs, basically."

Between them they scaled down by the grand total of 36kg, but it has not been plain sailing on the fitness front. At the start of last season, Billy contracted pneumonia and ended up in hospital.

"I rang him, just to check he was all right and see if he needed anything," Mako recalled. "He said: 'Bring me some food,' so I took him a KFC." Did he have to sneak it past the nursing staff? "No, I just walked straight in."

Sadly, Billy did not walk straight out. "I managed to burn my back by falling asleep on a hot water bottle," he said, "and the burns became infected. I spent a long time on strong antibiotics." Did he not notice that the water in the bottle was just a little hotter than usual? "I'd been up all night because of the pneumonia, so I was really tired," he explained. "When my mum made a hot water bottle for me, she always put a cover on it. I forgot about the cover."

Billy's injury and illness issues have continued to hinder him: called into the Six Nations squad in January, it is only in the last few days that he has been able to take an active part in preparations. "I've felt a bit awkward until now," he admitted. "I imagined the others saying: 'Here's this new guy and he's not even training. He's just here for the free food'. "

But Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, believes the youngster has what it takes to join Mako in the match-day squad and is keen to put his selectorial instinct to the test.

That instinct is likely to be proved sound. Billy was asked to grow up very fast indeed last season, when Wasps called a number of profoundly inexperienced age-groupers into the front line during a bitter struggle against relegation, and the harsh realities of those desperate weeks accelerated his development.

"It was so stressful – the most stressful time I've had in rugby, by a long way," Billy acknowledged. "But it did a lot for my confidence. We were written off by people, but we came through it with the knowledge that we could play Premiership rugby with the older guys – that we were there for a reason.

"That confidence is important. When England won the World Cup in 2003, I remember watching Lawrence Dallaglio (the finest No 8 in the history of the Wasps club and another player who knew what it was to play like a veteran at a young age).

"He was so confident. I didn't really like him because of that, but looking back, I admire the fact that he always felt he could go out there and win the game for his country. He's still a big figure at Wasps. To wear the same shirt as he wore makes me feel proud."

Brothers-in-arms: Other England siblings

Ben and Tom Youngs

Scrum-half Ben has 31 England caps and was joined by elder brother Tom at hooker in last year's victory over Fiji.

Delon and Steffon Armitage

The duo played together five times for the national team between 2009 and 2010 but both have since fallen out of the team owing to problems with form or fitness.

Rory and Tony Underwood

Both pacy wingers, Rory and younger brother Tony featured during a successful spell for England. Rory played between 1984-96, overlapping with Tony's 1992-98.

Parisse set to give Italy a boost and Lions a test

Italy received a huge boost ahead of Sunday's match with England when their captain, Sergio Parisse was cleared to play by an appeals panel.

The man widely considered to be the most gifted No 8 in world rugby has had a 30-day suspension imposed for insulting a referee during a club outing for Stade Francais last month reduced to a 20-day suspension for "failing in his captain's duties". As a result, the ban will now expire on Saturday.

Parisse has also been named in the Barbarians squad for the match with the British and Irish Lions in Hong Kong on 1 June.

Four fellow internationals were confirmed by the Baa-Baas selectors: the World Cup-winning Springbok centre Jaque Fourie, Northampton's Samoan scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i, the Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni and the French back-rower Imanol Harinordoquy, who was one of the outstanding performers at the last World Cup in 2011.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Arts and Entertainment
Ella Henderson's first studio album has gone straight to the top of the charts
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

Life and Style
Paul Nuttall, left, is seen as one of Ukip's key weapons in selling the party to the North of England
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand labelled 'left-wing commie scum' by Fox News
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow


Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Steven Caulker of QPR scores an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool
Arts and Entertainment
artKaren Wright tours the fair and wishes she had £11m to spare
Life and Style
Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh been invited to take part in Women Fashion Power, a new exhibition that celebrates the way women's fashion has changed in relation to their growing power and equality over the past 150 years
fashionKirsty and Camila swap secrets about how to dress for success
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past