Bath Rugby make move for star prop Mako Vunipol
Bath have confirmed they have made contact with Bristol over the possibility of signing star prop Mako Vunipola this summer.
The 19-year-old, who was yesterday named in England Under-20s' Six Nations squad, seems certain to leave the Memorial Stadium this summer – with Bristol's traditional rivals now leading the race for his signature.
Bath chief executive Nick Blofeld has contacted his opposite number at Bristol, Steve Gorvett, to discuss the possible transfer, with Gorvett accepting there is little his club can do to prevent such a move.
Vunipola has also been linked with Bath's Aviva Premiership rivals Wasps and Gloucester – but the Recreation Ground club have been encouraged by their initial contact regarding a move for the talented teenager.
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Bath chief executive Blofeld said: "Steve Gorvett and I have spoken and I don't think there is any issue in terms of us approaching Mako. Steve seems to think we can now go ahead and speak to Mike Strange, who is Mako's manager.
"Mako is a player we are interested in, because he is a young guy with lots of potential and is just down the road at Bristol, with whom we are trying to build a relationship.
"Mako has certainly got the potential to come to Bath – and we have held initial conversations and initial meetings about that. He is a very strong young man who has been playing very well for Bristol, and he is the sort of player we want to attract to Bath.
"We would love to get something sorted out as soon as possible, once the player is happy and the agent is happy. The coaches here are all supportive of the move, so we would hope to get something done as soon as we can."
Losing Vunipola, whose mature displays on either side of the front row this season have belied his lack of years, would represent a crushing yet virtually unavoidable blow for Bristol.
Club bosses plan to hold contract talks with their academy starlets in the next week or so – with retaining players such as Vunipola, Ollie Hayes, Jack Tovey and George Watkins likely to be among their priorities.
Gorvett, however, is realistic enough to know that Vunipola – one of only three Championship players selected for the England Under-20 squad – is unlikely to commit to another year with Bristol while Premiership suitors await.
The Bristol chief executive also appeared to suggest Bath was the likely destination of the powerful New Zealand-born youngster.
"Clearly, Mako is a player who is going to attract interest from Premiership clubs – and we do have a relationship with Bath. I can't say any more than that," said Gorvett.
The Premiership club's interest in Vunipola was initially sparked by his impressive showing in a contact training session between Bath and Bristol's first-team squads early this season. They have since monitored his progress, with the energetic prop producing a string of eye-catching displays for Bristol in the Championship.
Bristol, who face Esher in the British & Irish Cup tonight, will name their team this lunchtime and are expected to select a strong side.