England players with Pacific Islands heritage looking to make World Cup impact

Eddie Jones’ men face Tonga in their opening match in Japan.

By Press Association Published: 18 September 2019 - 11.43am

England open their 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign against Tonga in Sapporo on Sunday.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at four of the current squad with Pacific Islands heritage who will be out to make an impact for Eddie Jones’ men.

Mako Vunipola

Mako Vunipola qualified for England through residency.
Mako Vunipola qualified for England through residency. (Adam Davy/PA)

England Caps: 54; Age: 28; Height: 180cm; Weight: 121kg

Saracens prop Vunipola, along with his brother Billy, is the son of former Tonga captain Fe’ao Vunipola.

Mako, 28, was born in New Zealand, but spent a lot of his childhood in Wales where his father played for Pontypool, Pontypridd and Caerphilly.

After starting his career at Bristol, he joined Saracens in 2011, making his England debut the following year against against Fiji as well as playing on two British and Irish Lions tours.

The prop – a winner of four Premiership titles and three European Rugby Champions Cups with Saracens – has been carrying a hamstring problem, but is expected to be available for England’s World Cup opener.

Billy Vunipola

England Caps: 45; Age: 26; Height: 188cm; Weight: 126kg

The younger of the Vunipola brothers, Viliami, born in Sydney, also plays his club rugby for Saracens, having come through the Wasps academy ranks.

The number eight made his England debut against Argentina during the summer of 2013, and went on to become one of the vice-captains under Dylan Hartley as Jones’ side secured the 2016 Six Nations Grand Slam.

Billy Vunipola has recovered from injury setbacks, which included shoulder surgery, and is again expected to be a key man for England in Japan.

Manu Tuilagi

Manu Tuilagi has been through some off-field issues as well as battling injury.
Manu Tuilagi has been through some off-field issues as well as battling injury. (Andrew Matthews/PA)

England Caps: 35; Age: 28; Height: 185cm; Weight: 111kg

Leicester centre Tuilagi was born on Savai’i, the largest island in Samoa and is the youngest of six brothers, four of whom went on to represent their birth nation.

His brother Freddie was selected for Samoa at the 1991 World Cup – the year Manu was born.

Having moved to the United Kingdom to join his brothers, Tuilagi qualified for England through residency and was eventually named in the training squad for the 2011 World Cup, making his international debut against Wales where he scored a try.

Tuilagi became England’s youngest player to appear at a World Cup, aged 20 years and 115 days when he featured against Argentina, breaking the record set by Jonny Wilkinson.

As well as overcoming some serious injury setbacks, Tuilagi – who earned just two caps between 2014 and 2019 – has also been through several off-field issues.

He was fined £3,000 by England rugby officials after jumping from a ferry in Auckland during the 2011 World Cup and then missed out on selection for the home 2015 tournament after admitting he assaulted two female police officers following a night out in Leicester.

Joe Cokanasiga

England Caps: 8; Age: 21; Height: 193cm; Weight: 122kg

Bath wing Cokanasiga was born in Fiji and moved to England at the age of three as his father Ilaitia was in the British Army.

Cokanasiga also had spells living in Germany and Brunei before joining up with the London Irish academy, going on to come through the England youth ranks.

Having been on the tour to Argentina during the summer of 2017, a senior international debut came in November 2018 when he scored tries against both Japan and Australia.