Adam Hathaway reveals that Mako Vunipola achieved something only one other player has done at the weekend and looks ahead to a game in Doncaster next Sunday.
There were a few rare beasts spotted on a riotous opening weekend of the Six Nations. France blew a 16 point lead against Wales on Friday, there was a hat-trick for a Scottish wing, Blair Kinghorn, against Italy and England proved the bookies wrong by beating Ireland 32-20 in Dublin.
But there was something even rarer than that.
An England player got 10 out of 10 in the ratings in the Sunday Times that are put together by RugbySpy’s colleague, the paper’s long serving correspondent, Stephen Jones and that is amongst the rarest beasts of the lot.
You have got more chance of seeing a live dodo walking down Stoke Newington High Street in a bowler hat than seeing one of them.
Mako Vunipola take a bow and what a player he is, and what a display he put on against Ireland.
He might not look like a rock star – Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje are rock stars – but Big Mako sure as hell plays like one.
He gives the impression of being the roadie who is loading the speakers into the back of the truck after a gig to take the equipment to the next venue but, wow, he can play lead guitar when he puts his mind to it.
He got a full house from Jonesy and you must believe us when we say that that takes some doing.
Here are the official stats, there might have to be a Brexit style recount on some of them as we all know there are lies, damn lies and statistics, but this is what we got emailed on Saturday evening.
M.Vunipola, or Makovina Wanangarua I Whanga Nui-Atara Vunipola as his mum calls him, was credited with the following.
Tackles attempted, 31, tackles made 31, carries 12, dominant tackles nine and minutes played 77 and probably should have had a try. The geeks in the anoraks also told us that flanker Mark Wilson knocked out 27 tackles and hooker Jamie George racked up 22.
Thirty one tackles for a loose-head prop?
Do me a favour Mako, some analysts disagreed and had him at around 23 or 25 tackles but any of those scores should see him drummed out of the front row union in disgrace. George will probably be given the bum’s rush by the old prop and hookers’ drinking club as well. As Peggy Mitchell would have said in Eastenders ‘get out of my pub’.
We have known and worked with Jones for more than two decades, read his stuff for more than three decades, ate and drank with him all over the world, had countless late night discussions and we know he is fiercely protective over his ratings and pores over them, to get them right, on match nights.
As RugbySpy also has to do a similar job at Test games we know that compiling those scores is the devil’s own task – you have to watch every player while you have got other business to attend to such as doing an actual match report. Jones watches every player all right and we reckon he is spot on on this score. Just don’t tell him that.
You get MBEs and OBEs handed out like confetti these days, you don’t get 10 out of 10s in the Sunday Times.
In the millions of ratings Jones has filed to his desk only one other player has got full marks. Not Martin Johnson in England’s summer Test 25-14 win over Australia in Melbourne in 2003, the greatest display by an English player in our book, and not Manu Tuilagi in England’s win over the All Blacks in 2012. Mario Ledesma, Jerry Guscott, Gerald Davies, David Campese, Juan Martin Hernandez, Garry Pagel, Frank Bunce, Olo Brown and the rest of his heroes, none of them got full marks in the ST the day after a match.
We reckon Alexander Obolensky would have only got eight out of 10 from Jones, if he had been around, when he scored two tries in England’s 13-0 win over New Zealand in 1936. So Mako must have been something pretty special at the weekend. And he was for sure.
To put it into context, the only other player who has got the full Monty from Jones is Simon Shaw for his display, from the second row, in the British & Irish Lions second Test 28-25 defeat to the Springboks in Pretoria in 2009.
Shaw was off the scale that day and Vunipola was off the scale on Saturday. Some players have nearly been off the scale at the other end of the ST ratings, one famous All Black captain got a big fat zero, you know who you are, and several have been marked down with ones and twos. Only two have got 10 but big Mako deserved every nicker of his tenner.
Vunipola tips the scales at about 19 and a half stones, looks like he is permanently knackered, has the handling skills of a centre, could probably drop kicks from the half-way line but still has the nuts and bolts that every prop needs.
There was some noise about his scrummaging ahead of the Irish match but from where we were sitting he didn’t have too many problems with the Irish tight-head Tadhg Furlong, who is everyone’s flavour of the month.
As the England gaffer Eddie Jones said of the 28-year-old, older Vunipola brother, on Saturday night: “He’s 125kgs, he made 23 tackles, he’s probably carried the ball 10 times, he scrums, and lifts in the lineout, and then we expect him to chase kicks like a three-quarter. It shows you what a modern prop can do, and he’s right at the top of the class.” Eddie could not resist comparing him to a sumo wrestler. But he is the boss.
It is not all about the number crunching though. Vunipola has a head on his massive shoulders as his club supremo at Saracens Mark McCall testified at the end of last season.
“Mako is incredible,” said McCall. “He is one of the smartest rugby brains I’ve ever come across and can see things that fly-halves don’t see. Mako understands the game incredibly well and is an incredibly smart guy.” McCall is a former Irish international and his Irish eyes might have been smiling at his man’s form at the weekend – the rest of his countrymen’s eyes would not have been.
McCall also rightly observed, Vunipola “wouldn’t win prizes for his body language”.
The big lad looks like he has gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson before he runs onto the pitch, he looks like he has done 30 rounds inside the ropes with Iron Mike by the time he comes off it and shambles to the bench but English rugby is lucky to have him. His brother can play a bit too.
And English rugby will need the both of them in form for the rest of the year. Apparently there is some tournament going on in Japan down the track.
Mako might not be a rock star but he is a 10 out of 10 player, and there are not too many of them around, just ask the Sunday Times.
While the men were knocking lumps out of each other in the opening round of the Six Nations the women were at it too and results set up what should be the tie of the tournament next weekend.
On Friday England, led by Sarah Hunter, beat Ireland 51-7 in Dublin and Italy put away Scotland 28-7 in Glasgow. Saturday’s action in Montpellier saw the French thrash Wales 52-3 to tee up what should be a cracker on Sunday in Doncaster.
France will be at Castle Park and they will arrive there as Six Nations and Grand Slam holders having beaten England by a point, 18-17, in round four of last year’s tournament in Grenoble.
England have played France 12 times and won seven but that defeat last year still rankles so this should be a cracker. If you have not watched women’s rugby before give it a go – it has come on a ton in the last ten years and the England team are finally on full-time contracts.
You can get in for a tenner too.