Vunipola at home in Sydney

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Sydney is more familiar to Billy Vunipola than he might want to disclose this week.

The younger of the Vunipola brothers, England’s number eight, was born in Sydney and has plenty of family still in the area.

“Actually a whole bunch of them here, struggling to get tickets so if you guys know anyone that can get them,” he said.

“One of my grandmothers lives here and my mum's family is based here.

“I come here every year on my way to Tonga, quite a familiar place for me.”

Billy Vunipola returns to Sydney often. Photo: Getty ImagesVunipola won’t be making time for family get-togethers this week, though, at least not until the series is done and dusted.

“This week the focus is on Australia not meeting family," he said.

“They live in Mascot, some live here but refusing to even pretend like we know each other.”

Vunipola strikes an enormous figure for a backrower, at 126kg and 188cm, joking he could easily swap in for his loosehead prop brother, Mako, seamlessly.

He’s a fair sight larger than his opposite number in the second Test, Sean McMahon, though he said England was well aware of the threat the relative fledgling backrower posed.

“He's very different to me, he's much more powerful ,he's quicker, he's better looking than me as well so I can't really compare myself to him,” he said.

“He's deceptively strong and we actually put a lot of emphasis on him.

“We didn't really want to talk him up because we didn't want to make him a target but then we targeted him if you know what I mean.

“He's a great player and hopefully, not this weekend, but in the future he does his thing."

Billy Vunipola is relishing England's series. Photo: Getty ImagesVunipola is hoping that this weekend doesn’t require another mammoth defensive effort and said he knows that outcome will be determined largely to him and his breakdown partners in the backrow.

“It'd be nice if we got a few phases of attack, try and impose ourselves on them in different way but sometimes Test matches work out like that (defensively),” he said.

“We didn't want to defend as much as we did but they just work out like that.

“This week we definitely want to get more front foot ball and I guess that comes down to people like me so it's a massive honour for me to help the team in that way's tough sometimes.”

Vunipola there was once certainty, and that is it won’t be a cakewalk, particularly with the possibility of James Haskell being ruled out, after donning a boot in training and post-match with a foot problem.

“I can't sit here and say that it's been easy because it hasn't,” he said.

“I think it's been a tough old scrap and it definitely has been that, especially the second Test.

“I think for us as an English pack we wanted the set piece to be solid, give our backs a base to play from and they've not let us have an easy time, you know?”