Mako Vunipola wears a No1 jersey for a living in the Saracens and England front row, but the loosehead now has a new claim to fame, sweeping to glory to become the RugbyPass FIFA charity tournament’s first-ever northern hemisphere champion. He is donating his $2,000 prize to the justgiving.com page set up by 99-year-old war veteran Captain Tom Moore, who walked 100 laps of his garden to raise funds for the pandemic fighting NHS.
Competing in a tournament jam-packed with household names from the world of European rugby, the likes of Ellis Genge, Tom Curry, Adam Hastings, Anthony Watson and Freddie Burns to name but five of the stellar cast, Vunipola was irrepressible in seeing off all rivals in the knockout format competition that kept rugby players and fans royally entertained during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
Vunipola, who started out as Bayern, switched to Manchester United and then played as Liverpool in his closing three matches, began his all-conquering run with a comfortable 2-0 win over cousin Manu Vunipola, who played as Barcelona.
Another 2-0 win followed over Leon Brown’s France before he schooled Nowell’s Juventus in the quarter-finals. Billy Searle had the honour of becoming the first player to score against Vunipola, going one-nil ahead in the semi-final with PSG.
However, he fell prey to a convincing comeback, losing out 3-1, and this experience came in useful for Vunipola in the final as he also had to come from behind to beat Denis Buckley’s PSG 3-2 in the tournament final.
During the decider, Vunipola explained why he had jettisoned his real-life Manchester United favourites after just one outing on PlayStation in favour of Liverpool. “I support Man United but I couldn’t go Man United against PSG because they have two cowboys at the back,” he said.
Buckley’s claim to fame was his injury-time winner over early favourite Genge, who had used little-fancied Watford to destroy Ashton Hewitt’s Manchester City. “They call me Nasa in this game because I always find space,” enthused the Leicester and England prop during that stunning victory.
The match of the tournament proved to the early-round meeting of Nowell and Hastings, an eight-goal thriller which tipped the way of the enthusiastic England winner with a late goal for a 5-3 win.
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