Billy Vunipola ready to resume physical role for England when required

By Sports Desk September 27, 2023

Billy Vunipola insists he is ready to resume his primary function as England’s battering ram having played a supporting role against Chile which allowed others to shine.

Vunipola is competing with the in-form Ben Earl for the number eight jersey in the final group match against Samoa on October 7 when Steve Borthwick’s team are expected to clinch their World Cup quarter-final spot as Pool D winners.

Making his first start since completing a two-match ban for a dangerous tackle, the imposing Saracens back row found his ability to make a significant impact in the 71-0 demolition of Chile last Saturday curtailed by the all-out assault being conducted around him.

“It’s funny to say this because we beat them quite convincingly but it’s tough for me to try and take all the onus on myself when everyone else is very keen to try and get the ball in their hands,” Vunipola said.

“My role becomes that of a support player and as much as I want to have the ball in my hands, I want to put the team in the best position possible. So if that means giving the ball to Owen Farrell more often, then so be it.

“Obviously having a lot of involvements is a positive. I would have liked to have had 15-16 carries, but at the end of the day that’s not what the team needed from me on Saturday. My role was to try and help the team and I felt like I did that.

“But I felt positive coming away because the forwards put the backs in positions where they could run free and attack.

“I’m supremely confident in what I bring in terms of my physicality and against physical teams I know I can hold my own. When I’m called upon I’m right here, waiting.”

England have overcome an abysmal World Cup build-up consisting of three defeats in four preparation fixtures to dispatch Argentina, Japan and Chile with ease since arriving in France.

Although the suspicion remains that they will struggle when meeting the type of heavyweight opposition they have yet to face, they will enter a likely quarter-final against Fiji with the wind in their sails.

It has since emerged that their disastrous results last month were partly a consequence of their heavy conditioning programme, which has been designed to place them in the best possible position for the key phases of the World Cup.

Vunipola uses David Haye’s world heavyweight title defeat by Wladimir Klitschko in 2011, which he blamed on an injured toe, to explain why England kept the knowledge of their empty tanks to themselves.

“I sit here with a team that’s doing really well after what some people said was a disaster in August, but the work we were doing away from prying eyes was always going to bear these results.

“It was just tough little period to ride through but luckily we have come through it. We couldn’t talk about it otherwise it would be seen as an excuse.

“The only example I can think of is when David Haye was complaining about his little toe after he lost his fight.

“It’s not something you can disclose but we were training really hard because our goal was to be ready and fresh for Argentina.”

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