Billy and Mako Vunipola's mother a surprise inclusion on Rugby World Cup 2023 Players' Committee

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Charles Richardson
·3-min read
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Billy and Mako Vunipola.
Billy and Mako Vunipola.

Reverend Iesinga Vunipola, the mother of England internationals Billy and Mako, has been appointed to an inaugural Players' Committee to "respect and recognise mothers of all rugby players" ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France.

The seven-person committee, which was unveiled on Thursday by two-time World Cup winner John Eales, who will also act as the group's chair, will have as its primary aim to "strengthen the links between the players and the fans in the game" and "bring together the professional and amateur parts of rugby".

Regarding Revd Vunipola's inclusion as the only non-playing member of the Players' Committee, the former Australia lock said: "One of the important considerations in rugby is the mothers of all players. We wanted this committee to be representative of what makes rugby special - and what makes rugby special are the mothers and the fathers but, in this case, we want to particularly respect and recognise the mothers of all rugby players - professional and amateur.

"We had this idea that we wanted to recognise the mothers. I'm not a mother, the other people on the committee are not mothers, so we thought, 'let's get someone with the experience of being a mother in rugby from the grassroots right to the professional level'. By doing that, we feel that we will be able to create authenticity in what we're trying to do."

Eales and Revd Vunipola, a minister at Rivercourt Methodist Church in Hammersmith, will be joined on the panel by five other esteemed names from the rugby world: former Wales centre Gareth Thomas; former Australia flanker David Pocock; former France duo Yannick Jauzion and Philippe Sella; and current French international, voted World Rugby's women's player of the decade in 2020, Jessy Trémoulière.

"Sometimes, players in sport, particularly these days, they can seem to be removed a little bit from the fans," Eales added. "We want to draw those links and make them really tangible throughout the World Cup.

"Rugby union is a wonderful international game but more than 99 per cent of our game is amateur. The two parts of the game need to be solidly linked together."

Beyond their on-field achievements, the inclusion of Pocock, Jauzion and Trémoulière was linked to their involvement in the sustainability sector. Pocock has been "a leading figure in the fight against global warming", Jauzion is a qualified agricultural engineer while Trémoulière "has invested in sustainable production methods" in her farming work outside of rugby. Eales explained that there will be further announcements in the build-up to France 2023 regarding the committee's role in the tournament's environmental and sustainability assignments.

"We have chosen five critical missions for the committee," Eales added. "To celebrate the history of the RWC by bringing together players and fans; to pay tribute to the mothers of players, their dedication, commitment and faith in the game; the patronage of French clubs; to mobilise and raise awareness on inclusion and accessibility in rugby; and to mobilise and raise awareness on environmental impacts and issues."