Toby Faletau's England cousin tells of Pontypool's Tonga connection
1:10pm Wednesday 14th November 2012 in Sport
WHEN Mako Vunipola, 20, (left) made his England debut against Fiji on Saturday, it was an exciting moment for his cousin Josh Faletau (right) – already cheering on his brother Toby Faletau for Wales against Argentina.
IN a scene typical across the South Wales Valleys, four boys are throwing a rugby ball around on a village green in Pontypool.
What’s more unusual about these friendly games of two-on-two is that half the boys involved will go on to be fully-fledged international rugby players, after Mako Vunipola, 20, made his England debut against Fiji on Saturday and his cousin Toby Faletau, 22, earned cap number 18 for Wales on the same day.
The Pontypool family’s feat is even more remarkable when you think that Billy Vunipola, the third of those boys on the green, has been starring at Number eight for English Premiership side London Wasps, as well as representing England U20s.
It left the fourth of the group, 23-year-old Josh Faletau in an odd situation at the weekend.
"I think I was probably the only person in the Millennium Stadium who was happy in the second half," says Josh.
"I had gone to see Toby but I was watching Mako’s game on my phone too. When I started celebrating everyone was just looking at me wondering why and I said Mako’d won."
"It’s amazing what all three of those guys are doing," continues a clearly proud Josh.
"It’s unbelievable how quickly Mako has come through and I still can’t get my head round the fact that’s my little brother out there smashing into people.
"Growing up it used to be me and Billy v Mako and Toby and the games were pretty even to be honest.
"Those three have made it now and I’ve got a bit of catching up to do but that’s still my dream," Josh says.
Josh is still playing rugby for Blaenavon RFC, scoring the winning try two weekends ago at Ynysddu.
Growing up he remembers proudly playing alongside his family for Bristol Academy, with him, Billy, Toby and Mako, as well as their other cousins Tony Ketisi and Anthony Maka all playing in the same side.
The Tongans had all ended up in Pontypool after legendary rugby agent, Phil Kingsley Jones (who represented Jonah Lomu) brought Toby and Josh’s dad, Kuli Faletau over to play with his son Kingsley at Ebbw Vale.
The boys all then followed Josh and Billy’s dad, Seao Vunipola down to Bristol where he was coaching.
"We won every game that season except for one when we drew, and none of us played in that because we had to go to a Tongan community church event," explains Josh.
It must have been quite a sight, packing down against a front row including Josh and Mako, with Billy and Toby in the back-row, though they never gave a Haka a rendition on the pitch, "we just used to practice that in the front room messing about at home," laughs Josh.
As shown by Josh’s earlier anecdote the group are all still extremely close.
"We’re best friends," says Josh. "After the game at Twickenham the boys came up here to meet me and Toby and we were planning a big boys night out but as it was we just chilled out in the end."
One shudders to think of the amount of cooking Mrs Faletau has to do when those four get together in the family home in Pontypool, but what Josh is clear on is who is the best on the dancefloor when they hit town.
"Billy’s the best dancer. He’s got a move called the ‘Dougie’ he does (a hip-hop dance involving some swaying and a lot of posturing). He’s got some rhythm.
Toby only really dances when he’s had a drink and as he rarely drinks, he rarely dances!"
Josh says Saturday was a proud day for the whole family, despite the disappointing result for Wales.
In the future, the ultimate dream is for the two-on-two to be replicated, only this time on the green grass of the Millennium Stadium not the green in Pontypool, with the Faletau’s in the red of Wales and the Vunipola’s in the white of England.
Until then Josh is hoping for a meeting between Toby and Mako in the Six Nations.
"There’s a gentleman’s agreement I think on the field for the Faletau’s and Vunipola’s to avoid each other for everyone’s benefit" jokes Josh. "We know there is a big rivalry between England and Wales, but if that happens it will just be a massive celebration for our family."