England prop Mako Vunipola has announced his retirement from international rugby.
Vunipola amassed 79 caps in a career that began in 2012 and also made nine Test appearances for the British and Irish Lions.
The 32-year-old Saracens forward missed last year’s World Cup because of back surgery but was expected to be involved in the upcoming Six Nations.
“It’s been an honour to have represented my country but all good things must come to an end,” he said on Instagram.
“The time has come to step away now. There have been lots of highs and lows. Would love to thank everyone who have helped me along the way.
“To my wife @alex_vunipola thank you for taking care of our family and all your support. Words don’t do it justice.
“To my parents I’m eternally grateful for all you have sacrificed for me to be here. Malo aupito and Ofa atu. God is good.”
Vunipola is currently serving a four-match ban for a dangerous tackle made while on club duty for Saracens against Newcastle on December 30th.
The suspension ends just before the Six Nations, making him available for England’s opener against Italy in Rome on February 3rd.
And with Steve Borthwick facing an injury crisis at loosehead prop, Vunipola was expected to be fully involved until his surprise decision to step away from the Test arena.
Joe Marler, Ellis Genge and Bevan Rodd – England’s three loosehead at the World Cup last autumn – are injured.
Marler’s return date is unknown, Genge could make the trip to Rome, but Rodd misses the entire tournament.
England will struggle to fill Vunipola’s boots as a powerful yet skilful front row who possesses a sharp rugby brain.
The New Zealand-born forward of Tongan heritage, who frequently played in the same Red Rose pack as younger brother Billy, is a potent carrier whose scrummaging has been an occasional vulnerability.
Several of Vunipola’s England team-mates past and present have paid tribute.
Maro Itoje commented beneath the Instagram post with a goat emoji while Genge said “what a unreal career it was makdaddy, second best looking loosehead Englands ever had x”.
The account of England Rugby responded “What a career – thanks for everything @mako_vunipola”, although there has been no additional reaction from Twickenham to the news that one of the nation’s great props will now be available for Saracens only.
Vunipola made his debut against Fiji in 2012 and went on to play in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups before his back issue prevented him from appearing in his third tournament.
He started the defeat by South Africa in the final of Japan 2019 and was an ever-present for England during last year’s Six Nations.
It is unknown if he will make himself available for the Lions’ visit to Australia next year in what would be his fourth tour.