Billy Vunipola spurred on to return ahead of schedule after watching brother Mako show him the way forward

Both Vunipola brothers have recovered from knee injuries that threatened to rule them out for the entire Six Nations

Click to follow

Billy Vunipola is in line to return to the England side that will start Saturday’s Six Nations Calcutta Cup clash against Scotland on Saturday after recovering from injury three weeks’ ahead of schedule, and he has his brother, Mako, to thank.

Of course, being a world class player like Vunipola opens up the state-of-the-art medical treatment and rehabilitation that comes with England and Saracens, but there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the No 8’s recovery from damaged knee ligaments sustained in the autumn international victory over Argentina last November.

Coincidentally, Vunipola saw his older brother, Mako, suffer a similar injury just a few weeks later. While that wasn’t the best news for the Saracens, England or the Vunipola family, it did mean that Billy had something to target, given that his brother’s injury was not as bad and immediately put him ahead in the race to return to fitness.

“I think it did, Mako Vunipola said when asked if being injured at the same time helped his brother. “We didn’t rehab together because he had a bigger one that me and had an operation. He needed to be a bit more cautious than myself.

“For him seeing me getting injured a couple of weeks after and then getting back ahead of him probably pushed him on. I can’t speak for him but it definitely seemed to me that he was getting a bit annoyed that I was running before he even started.

“We’re very lucky in that sense I think. Part of it is also growing up that dad wouldn’t accept that we were hurt in any game. If we went down with a dead leg or something he would say it wasn’t a real injury. It’s comes from our granddad who always said if we broke a leg he would just buy a new one, any one. That’s kind of the mindset we have. If either of us go down the other one will come over and say ‘get back up.”

Mako isn’t taking the credit just yet though. “It’s all him really. Like I said, he’s put in the hard graft with the staff and to be fair to him he’s looking like he’s running a lot better.” That will be music to the ears of Eddie Jones. The England head coach goes into this weekend’s Calcutta Cup encounter weighing up the prospect of restoring Billy to the starting XV in place of Nathan Hughes. While Wasps back-row Hughes has looked at home on the international stage since making his debut last November after qualifying for England on residency, he has not matched the levels set by Vunipola in 2016.

Hughes is averaging an impressive 52m in possession per game in the Six Nations, but he has made just one clean break across the three matches – something that Vunipola offers in an abundance given his sheer power in contact.

It’s something that the England coach, Steve Borthwick, was keen to play down, but Vunipola’s absence has been obvious this year given that England needed late tries against France and Wales to win and were trailing at half-time against Italy two weeks’ ago.

“He looks in very good shape and has worked tremendously hard,” Borthwich said. “In him and Nathan we have two fantastically powerful number eights who give us options in the position.

“We’ve seen different aspects of the attack work well at different times. The try we scored Wales, we attacked well from the kick return. We’ve seen players carry well – Nathan has done that, and Courtney Lawes has done really well in that regard as well.”

billy-vunipola-mako-vunipola.jpg
Billy and Mako Vunipola could line up in the same side to face Scotland on Saturday (Getty)

Scotland head into the penultimate weekend of the championship in the unusual position of being firmly in the title mix. Despite losing to France in their second match of the campaign, they can give themselves a genuine shot at the winning the Six Nations for the first time since the competition expanded from five teams to six, and one of the buzzwords being batted around once again in facing England has been the ‘passion’ that will be shown in trying to defeat the Auld Enemy.

But after facing similar arguments against France and Wales, England have proven that they can overcome the passion that the rest of the tournament seem to harbour just for them, and Mako Vunipola adds that the belief among the English players is sometimes overlooked.

“There’s that history, being the oldest international,” Vunipola adds. “I got told 1871 was the first one. I didn’t have a clue about that. There’s obviously that rivalry, England against Scotland…I have no idea about that either. But when you’re on the field you can definitely feel they have a – I don’t want to say hatred – passion to get one over on England. I think it’s a bit different to the Welsh. When you go up to Scotland you can really feel a passion to get one over on the English.

“As a player I think if you don’t have that passion at international level you’re the wrong place. We’ve talked about it this week, just concentrating on ourselves and not really focusing on what they’re going to bring; making sure we come in with the right attitude and mindset to start the game well. We’ve been playing well in parts of the game but not the full 80 minutes so we want to put a full 80 minutes of good performance. If we do that hopefully the result will take care of itself.”

Comments