Wasps No 8 Bill Vunipola has been tipped to have a bright future with England
By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter: @SkysportsTC. Last Updated: 05/12/12 10:47am
Former Wasps No 8 Dan Ward-Smith believes Billy Vunipola has the 'X-Factor' to go on to become a regular in the England pack.
Vunipola has already seen Wasps team-mate Joe Launchbury make a big impression in the England set-up, while his elder brother Mako - who plays for Saracens - came off the bench in all four of the autumn Tests.
And Ward-Smith, who saw the potential of Vunipola first hand during his two seasons at Wasps, is confident the 20-year-old powerhouse can make the step up.
"I'd put a lot of money on Billy going on to win 30-40 caps for England," Ward-Smith told Sky Sports.
"In my first year at Wasps we hardly ever saw him as he was at Harrow School but he would come along to training occasionally and scare a few people.
"He is a huge talent and as much as I don't like to call him one, he is a bit of a freak. He is a real physical specimen and comes from good rugby stock.
"There are no excuses for him not to succeed as he has everything. He has a natural offloading game, he is a big ball carrier and likes to put in the big hits."
Ward-Smith, who was denied a full England cap by untimely injuries, admits he thought Vunipola would beat fellow academy graduate Launchbury to the full squad.
"The fact Joe has got to the England squad first is really surprising," said Ward-Smith, who is now the academy manager for Inside Running in New Zealand.
"He was a real quiet lad, the sort you would approve of meeting your sister. He never really said a lot when he was involved with the first team but all of the sudden he has jumped through the ranks.
"Billy has the X-Factor with the offloads and the big hits but Joe does all the fundamentals well. He catches the kick-offs, wins his lineouts, makes his tackles, works in the scrum and has now started carrying the ball well.
"I have also been impressed by the fact he wasn't intimidated by facing the All Blacks. He has no fear and a level head on his shoulders."
Ward-Smith's time at Wasps was brought to a premature end when he was forced to retire in 2011 with a back injury.
However he still follows the club despite returning to his native New Zealand and he is hopeful they can once again challenge as one of the country's top clubs.
"Seeing them beat Leicester was a massive win for the club," he said.
"That is a huge game for Wasps and I am sure it is the same for the Leicester guys. I am hoping, though, that it can be a catalyst for Wasps.
"The top four seems to the same sides now but Wasps have moved out of the bottom tier and into the middle with the likes of Exeter and Gloucester.
"I think that is possible their level for the now, but with the players they have got coming through they could challenge again."
Crucially, Ward-Smith believes Wasps director of rugby Dai Young needs to put to together a pack capable of threatening the top sides.
"What Wasps need is a good tight five if they are to take the next step and break back into the top four," he added.
"If you look at Leicester, Northampton, Saracens and Harlequins, they are all built around their tight five. They win the set-pieces and give themselves a platform to build on.
"It is all very well and good having exciting talents of Tom Varndell and Christian Wade on the wing, but you need to get the ball out to them and without a good tight five to provide the platform then they are wasted."