x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Billy Vunipola's rise to England selection began in the UAE

It is a long way from the lawns of the Emirates Palace hotel, where he made his first-class debut in 2011 playing for Wasps in an Anglo-Welsh Cup match against Harlequins while still a schoolboy.

Billy Vunipola is in the England squad for the Six Nations game against Ireland.
Billy Vunipola is in the England squad for the Six Nations game against Ireland.

We have been used to seeing the next generation of international rugby players take their first steps towards stardom in the game on the fields of the UAE in the recent past.

It has never been overly obvious at the time, but some have left clearer indicators than others. Like the England trio of Ben Foden, James Haskell and Tom Croft, for instance, who used the Dubai Sevens of times past as a building block towards a career at the top end of the game.

Or Dan Cole, Danny Cipriani and Danny Care, who were nondescript contemporaries in the England side who vied for the Under 19 World Championship on the fields of the Dubai Exiles and Sharjah Wanderers in 2006.

Keith Earls, Cian Healey and Frans Steyn - all stars of the game now - each played in that competition, too.

Perhaps most tenuously of all, Billy Vunipola received a bunk up over here. The London Wasps No 8 could make his full international debut for England when they face Ireland in Dublin in the Six Nations on Sunday.

It is a long way from the lawns of the Emirates Palace hotel, where he made his first-class debut in 2011 playing for Wasps in an Anglo-Welsh Cup match against Harlequins while still a schoolboy.

Vunipola, whose brother Mako is already capped by England, is a thoroughly modern Englishman. He was born in Australia to Tongan parents and grew up in Wales. So the UAE seems like the obvious place for him to have made his bow in rugby.

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE & Paul Radley @PaulRadley