Sanderson coached both brothers

Sale’s head coach Alex Sanderson has paid an emotional tribute to Billy and Mako Vunipola.

It was announced the Vunipola brothers would be leaving Saracens at the end of the season. It is thought they will be both heading to France.

Read more: Vunipola’s to leave Saracens

Sanderson coached both players at the London club when he was assistant coach from 2008-2021. Mako joined the club in 2011 and Billy signed in 2013. Sanderson first reflected on his relationship with Mako.

“I’ll just take you back: I coached Mako when he was 17 at school,” Sanderson said. “It was my second coaching gig after the Reds. I went to Eddie Jones at the Reds, a baptism of fire. Came back, worked for the RFU, coached England U18s.

“And Mako was in that squad and he couldn’t do a backward roly-poly at the time. It was funny. My missus still remembers it. This is like 15 years ago, I’m sure. I said, ‘Have a look at this kid, he can’t do a backward roly-poly. But geez could he play rugby!

“He was out of shape and he had grey hair at 17; he’d lost his passport surely ’cause he is not 17. But he could play.

“His outputs and his involvements in the game, even back then when he wasn’t in great condition, showed his ability to read a game, to find the ball, to pop up in areas defensively where he had impact both sides of the ball. And that was back then.”

Sanderson’s reflections on Billy focus upon a night out they shared, rather than rugby.

“And then I met Billy,” he added. “It’s funny innit? I don’t think of the rugby acuteness when I think of them two.

“I remember being sat next to Billy after the Heineken Cup final that was lost against Toulon (in 2014) and he was inconsolable and it’s things like that that bind you to players.

“Sorry (Sanderson, getting emotional, wipes his eye)… We had a fight on a p*** up in a bar in Croatia. A bit of a fight. He threw a cork and it hit me in the eye. He was p***ed. I don’t think he has drunk since then. And when I left he sent me a letter apologising, that was 10 years after, for that incident which I had buried the day after so.

“Rugby-wise, yeah, brilliant players. Men? None better. None better blokes. Really fortunate to have known them.”

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