Three minutes into his long-awaited return to the international arena after a four-month absence, Billy Vunipola found himself crashing over Scotland’s try-line as England stormed to the Six Nations title at Twickenham.
The younger Vunipola brother replaced the impressive Nathan Hughes in the 54th minute to a standing ovation and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, although he did admit later that he was struggling and only found a second wind as the game drew to a close.
“I never expected anything like that,” said Vunipola. “I was just happy to be back on the pitch with the boys.
“We have a great crowd here at Twickenham. Very humbling to get them cheering me like that.
“I think it was more for Hughesy coming off, he had a stormer today. I was just happy to add and help the team in any way I could.
“It’s tough [coming off the bench] because I’ve only played one game. This level is obviously a bit faster, a bit more physical.
“To come off having sat around for 50 minutes, it was tough for the whole 30 minutes, I was struggling a little bit and then when the game finished, suddenly found my second wind, so that was a bit of a shame.
“I thought the boys did unbelievable today and I was thankful to jump on at the end.”
Captain Dylan Hartley spoke before Saturday’s game of the importance of Vunipola and how much of a boost it is to have him back with the squad for the final push.
With the Calcutta Cup and Six Nations title already sown up, England head to Ireland with the view of a second consecutive Grand Slam – and setting a new world record for 19 wins in a row.
All the players spoke after the game of switching their attentions straight to the game in Dublin and while motivation is high, Vunipola is not looking to raise England’s performance again, but instead generate a level of consistency that has so far been missing during the championship.
“It [the Grand Slam] was our goal at the start of the tournament, or the team’s goal. We’re firmly pushing towards it. We’re going to have a good night tonight and look forward to next week tomorrow,” Vunipola added.
“I don’t think it’s raising it. It’s more kind of being consistent, being thorough with our analysis, seeing the areas where we can improve, giving the boys a pat on the back for the first half and the whole of the game.”
Ireland’s chances of winning the Six Nations vanished in Cardiff on Friday night as Wales scored three tries without reply.
However, the Saracens No 8 is not reading too much into the defeat and believes next Saturday at the Aviva Stadium will be Eddie Jones’ side’s toughest test to date.
“Look it is a big occasion next week.
“It is the day after St Patrick’s Day, it is going to be very, very emotional so we are going to have to turn up with the right mindset to try to negate everything that they are going to bring on the mental side of things and try to impose the game plan that we have.
“It will be the toughest. It’s the next challenge and the next one is always the biggest one so we go there fully prepared.
“We know the Irish team is going to come at us. We know that for a fact whether they lost on Friday or not. We have to prepare the best we can and enjoy it as well.”
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