Family ties have always had some part to play in rugby union circles. But here we take a look at some of the most talented brothers plying their trade today.
1. Mako and Billy Vunipola
The Vunipola brothers both play for Saracens and have regularly turned out together for England too. After winning a Premiership title with Sarries and a Grand Slam with England this season, the two are sure to pick up more silverware. Having spent a part of their childhood in Wales, where their father played for Pontypridd, the pair could have played for Wales. But after moving to England in their teens, they opted for the Red Rose.
A powerful ball carrier with lovely hands, New Zealand-born Mako, the eldest of the brothers, has racked up 32 caps. Weighing in at 19 stone and reaching a height of 5’11”, the 25-year-old takes some stopping and has developed a reputation as a highly effective impact player for the Red Rose. Having improved his scrummaging, ‘Snorlax’, as he is affectionately known, is putting Joe Marler under pressure for the No 1 shirt.
23-year-old Billy has developed into one of the northern hemisphere’s best No 8s with his bullocking runs and sheer power. Billy ‘O’ is a genuine human wrecking ball, giving Saracens and England vital go-forward. He’s also a constant thorn in opposition defences’ sides. Having overcome a lack of fitness in the past, the Sydney-born star now possesses an excellent engine, as his 93 carries in last month’s Six Nations attest to. Has the potential to become one of the world’s best.
2. Jannie and Bismarck Du Plessis
Currently packing down together for Montpellier in the French Top 14, the former Natal Sharks duo made their international debuts together in July 2007 in Sydney, in the Boks Tri-Nations defeat to Australia. World Cup winners in 2007, Tri-Nations champs in 2009 plus a series win over the Lions in 2009, the Orange Freestaters have enjoyed a splendid career. They share the record for the most Springbok tests as brothers too, having made over 45 appearances together in South Africa’s boiler room.
Tipping the scales at just over 19 stone and standing at 6’2″, Jannie is a solid scrummager and a powerful ball carrier. Capped by South Africa seventy times and with 117 appearances for the Sharks, the elder Du Plessis is vastly experienced. A qualified doctor, he combined rugby and his medical skills until his move to France this year.
One of the world’s best hookers, the 31-year-old is known for his physical and abrasive nature. Freakishly strong with ball in hand, excellent in the scrum and accurate at the lineout, ‘Battleship’, as he is known, is an outstanding player. The 17-stone powerhouse acts as an extra flanker for the Boks at the breakdown, earning turnovers with his sheer physicality over the ball.
3. Steffon and Delon Armitage
The Trinidad-born duo became the first brothers to play for England since Rory and Tony Underwood in the 1995 Five Nations, when they figured against Italy in the 2009 Six Nations. Both established themselves at London Irish before heading across the channel to Toulon in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Since joining billionaire owner Mourad Boudjellal’s Cote d’Azur revolution, the pair have picked up three European Cup winner’s medals apiece as well as a French championship.
The elder of the two, Delon is an accomplished footballer blessed with real pace, a good rugby brain and a lovely sidestep. Capped 26 times by the Red Rose, he played in three of England’s 2011 World Cup games and was a part of England’s EPS (Elite Player Squad) until being dropped from it in 2012.
A controversial figure, Delon Armitage would probably have played more games for England if he’d stayed out of trouble and hadn’t moved abroad. Bans for an altercation with an anti-doping officer whilst at London Irish, for striking Northampton fly-half Stephen Myler and for a dangerous tackle on Bath’s Tom Biggs all harmed the 32-year-old’s England prospects.
Diminutive for a flanker, Steffon Armitage is a master at the breakdown using his strength and low centre of gravity to steal opposition ball. A powerful ball carrier who is deceptively quick, Armitage was named ERC European Player of the Year in 2013 and 2014 and was shortlisted for the award the following season.
Capped five times for England, his frustration at a lack of international opportunities led him to France. This move has undoubtedly improved him as a player but has led to him being stuck in the international wilderness. The RFU’s policy only allows for the selection of English based players, which has meant that the excellent Armitage has been left kicking his heels.
There were widespread calls for ex-England coach Stuart Lancaster to trigger the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause of the selection policy and choose Armitage in his World Cup squad but Lancaster decided not to opt for it.
Eddie Jones has also vowed to stick to this policy, so unless he moves back to England it is unlikely the 30-year-old will pull on an England shirt again.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena
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