It wasn’t all brotherly love and mutual admiration when the Vunipola boys joined forces for England at Murrayfield last Saturday. Billyâs attempts to encourage Mako didnât go down well. He was met by the âdeath stareâ.
Days after being named as one of three vice-captains in the national team, 23-year-old No 8 Billy was named man of the match for his rampaging display in the 15-9 RBS 6 Nations win over Scotland.
But Mako, the older sibling by two years, was not prepared to be totally eclipsed, so the prop emerged from the bench to reinforce Englandâs previously shaky scrum and help conjure a try for Jack Nowell with a sublime âout the backâ pass to Owen Farrell.
All in all, it was a triumphant occasion for the giant Anglo-Tongan forwards who are becoming increasingly influential both for Saracens and their adoptive country. In fact, Englandâs new head coach Eddie Jones declared that Billy has all the credentials to become the worldâs best player in his position.
His exploits brought a torrent of acclaim, but they didnât spare him when he tried to galvanise his brother.
âI always try and gee him up in the scrums but I can see heâs angry at me and telling me to shut up,â said Billy. âIâm just trying to help him. He helps me whenever Iâm carrying the ball.
âItâs good fun playing with your brother. Not many people get to do it at international level. Heâs definitely got better skills than I have â heâs more comfortable with ball in hand. For him to come on and put it out the back (to Farrell) was great, but he also did very well in the scrums.â
Mako confirmed that he was not best pleased to receive a set-piece pep talk, adding: âI try to focus on my job so when people tap me on the back or get in my ear it puts me off a bit.
‘If Billy does that, I give him the death stare, but sometimes we are blowing and you need that energy from the back five.
âI was disappointed not to be starting but Eddie has always told us that it is a 23-man squad and everyone who came off the bench made an impact. The biggest thing for me was to scrum well but it was lucky I got the call from Owen and the pass went to his hands.â
So much of the post-match focus was on Billy Vunipola, and rightly so. He was the outstanding figure in the midst of a disjointed, untidy contest. His powerful ball-carrying was Englandâs trump card.
Just as significant was the fact that he lasted the full 80 minutes of a full-throttle Test match, something previously beyond him. He is also happy about the England environment these days, after claiming that it had been too sterile and joyless during the World Cup.
Asked about the new man in charge, he said: âI respond more to the love and compassion he shows the boys, me especially. He is very personable.
‘He has been really good for me since he came in. He has filled me with confidence and that is something I thrive on.
‘I donât need someone to shout at me. I know what I have to do. I just need someone to reassure me and look after me.â
Jones has relaxed the off-field restrictions on the England players since he took over; allowing them to go out together for dinner and share a few beers from time to time.
Having bemoaned the lack of such socialising opportunities under Stuart Lancaster, Billy said: âIt works better when you have a relationship with someone rather than just rocking up and playing for England.
âWe have had a few bonding sessions. Itâs important for me to know what someone else is about, what motivates them; whether itâs their family or scoring tries. Itâs something you canât really measure or see but I definitely think it works. Iâm enjoying being with the boys and being in camp.â
On Sunday, Billy will be pitched into a duel with Sergio Parisse. He described Italyâs talismanic captain as âawesomeâ â despite his ill-judged drop-goal attempt in Paris last weekend â adding: âHe can probably do what he wants!â
For now, Englandâs No 8 is not going to try to emulate the great Italian stride for stride and off-load for off-load, instead limiting himself to modest targets. âAt the moment Iâm just trying to stay in the team,â he said.
âIâm working every day to get better and try and get closer to those who are at the top. Toby (Faletau, his cousin) as well. Theyâre very good players and I want to be in that bracket but Iâve got to keep doing what I do â trying to get over the gainline.â
If Billy and Mako keep doing what they do, they could have a profound impact on the outcome of this Six Nations campaign.