Rugby World Cup 2015: Billy Vunipola eyes England starting spot
The England No8 isn't taking a Red Rose spot for granted
Bonus-point hero Billy Vunipola insists he’s not nailed down a starting spot for England’s clash with Wales after his all-action display off the bench against Fiji.
Upon his arrival in the second half, the Saracens No.8 galvanised an England side who at times were run ragged by Fiji and 20-stone powerhouse Nemani Nadolo.
It was a combination of poor Fiji kicking and a try-double from Mike Brown that kept the Pacific Islanders at arm’s length, while Vunipola saved his best carry of the night for the death.
I’d rather be starting than not, but it’s just something I need to keep working on
With the clock two minutes into the red, Vunipola rumbled over the whitewash to clinch a 35-11 win and a bonus point that should prove all the more vital in a brutal pool that also contains Wales and Australia.
His performance outshone a largely quiet outing from starting No.8 Ben Morgan, but Vunipola said: “It’s more a message to the team that I’m willing to do whatever to help them, whether it’s during the week and training, not sulking – taking things on the chin and moving on.
“I’d rather be starting than not, but it’s just something I need to keep working on.
“I think sometimes it’s easier for the bench to come on because the game’s broken up and we’re a bit fresher than everyone else. A lot of credit has to go to the boys who wore them down.
“I didn’t think my try would be awarded at the time, no. I got up and they pushed the ball off the line. I was in two minds over whether I should recycle the ball or go for the line, if I missed it then it’d probably be game over.
“But someone pushed from behind and I managed to get over.”
There are several areas of concern for England coach Stuart Lancaster ahead of their meeting with Wales next Saturday – not least the set-piece.
England lost three scrums on their own put-in while Fiji were a perfect seven from seven and Vunipola has preached patience to the pack.
“(Their scrum) must have been something they worked on massively, though we prepared for that,” Vunipola added.
“Three times we got caught out with some of the decisions, but a few times we need to be more patient rather than go for the jugular straight from the off. The Fijian boys did that very well, fair play to them.
“The overarching message at half-time was be more direct, the Fijian back-line were very good at drifting off and making the hits on us. We kept passing the ball down the line rather than impacting the gain-line, I think that was the biggest thing when we (the replacements) came on – try and push the team forward rather than side wards.”
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