Billy and Mako Vunipola to leave Saracens with May exiting Gloucester

Saracens have confirmed that Billy and Mako Vunipola will leave the club at the end of the season while Gloucester have also announced that Jonny May is making his exit. All three have been England regulars over the past decade but are set to join the growing number of recent Test players in moving abroad in the summer.

The departure of the Vunipola brothers has been on the cards for a while with Billy, who was a replacement in Saracens’ win over Bristol last weekend in his first appearance since his arrest in Mallorca, set to join Montpellier. Mako has also been linked with a move to the same Top 14 club.

The brothers have been cornerstones of Saracens’ dynasty since their arrivals – Mako joined from Bristol in 2011 while Billy followed from Wasps in 2013 – and have helped the club to five Premiership titles and three Champions Cup trophies. They stayed with the club – as did most of their star names – during relegation to the Championship but like Owen Farrell they will move on at the end of the season, marking the end of an era.

Paying tribute to the Vunipolas, Saracens’ director of rugby Mark McCall said: “To watch Billy develop into a world class No 8 and a thoughtful, supportive teammate has been a privilege for us all. He has contributed enormously to the progress we have made as a club. On the field his intuition and amazing skill set combined with his competitive spirit and physical attributes made him a force to be reckoned with.

“Few players change how their position is played. Mako’s all-around skillset, rugby intelligence and physicality made us – as coaches – rethink what’s possible from a loosehead prop. Mako has achieved a phenomenal amount in the game; three Lions Tours, multiple England caps and being central to all Saracens has created.”

The pair could make their last appearances at the StoneX stadium on Saturday against Sale but Saracens are well placed to secure a home Premiership semi-final. The Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson is aware that their impending departure makes his side’s task of reaching the last four all the more difficult, recalling his time working with Mako and Billy – both at England age-group level and during his lengthy spell as a Saracens coach. “I coached Mako when he was 17 when I coached England u18s,” said Sanderson, who revealed Tom Curry is not quite ready to make his long-awaited comeback after hip surgery against Saracens but could feature in the semi-finals if Sale qualify.

Jonny May will also leave Gloucester at the end of the season. Photograph: Ryan Hiscott/Getty

“Mako was in that squad and he couldn’t do a backward roly-poly at the time. But jeez, could he play rugby. He had grey hair at 17 but he could play. His outputs and involvements in the game, even when he wasn’t in great condition, showed his ability to read the game, to find the ball, to pop up both sides of the ball.

“I remember sitting next to Billy after the Heineken Cup final that we lost to Toulon [in 2014] and he was inconsolable. It’s things like that that bind you to players. We had a fight on a piss-up in a bar in Croatia. He threw a cork and it hit me in the eye. When I left, 10 years later, he sent me a letter apologising for that incident which I’d buried the day after. Rugby-wise, brilliant players. Men, none better.”

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While Mako retired from international rugby with 79 caps last year, Billy was part of England’s World Cup squad but has not added to his 75 appearances since. May, who is England’s second-highest male try-scorer of all time behind Rory Underwood, with 36 in 78 Tests, retired after the World Cup and is expected to move abroad over the summer. Before that, May and Mako Vunipola are set to appear for the Barbarians against Fiji at Twickenham next month alongside a host of other recent England internationals including Danny Care, Jonathan Joseph, Kyle Sinckler, Ben Youngs, David Ribbans and Zach Mercer.

Will Collier, who won two England caps under Eddie Jones, is also on move and will leave Harlequins for the Top 14. He has been strongly linked with a move to Castres. Saracens have also confirmed the departure of Manu Vunipola – the fly-half and cousin of Billy and Mako.

The Guardian

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