Billy Vunipola is ready to unleash over a year of frustration that built up during his England exile, according to his Saracens team-mate Jamie George.
Vunipola is expected to be restored at number eight for Saturday’s first Test against Australia in Perth after injuries to Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds depleted Eddie Jones’ options at number eight.
It appeared as though the powerful back row of Tongan heritage had played his last game for England when Jones culled several of his senior players in the wake of an emphatic Six Nations defeat by Ireland last year.
One by one the old guard returned with Jamie George, George Ford and Mako Vunipola all recalled, leaving Vunipola “hurting” as Jones refused to be influenced by his rampaging form for Saracens.
George has acted as a sounding board for his friend over the last 15 months and now the stars have aligned to place him on a collision course with the Wallabies.
“Billy was hurting. He was hurting. I don’t think he will mind me saying that. He loves playing for England and he loves playing at the top level,” George said.
“I know that it hurt him not being involved in this. I have spoken to him at length about it. He was upset. This is where he wants to be.
“He’s probably the most competitive person I’ve ever come across. He wants to compete against the best and show that he can be the best. What better opportunity to do that than against Australia on their home turf?
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) June 27, 2022
“Billy has always been driven. The way that he leads at Saracens is different. He leads from the front. He works incredibly hard. He’s constantly wanting to evolve his game.
“I’m hugely excited to see him back in the Test arena because this is where he deserves to be. I know he’ll be chomping at the bit if he gets his opportunity on Saturday.”
Jones’ purge of some of his most trusted playing lieutenants was born out of a desire to reshape England in time for next year’s World Cup, but at 29, Vunipola could yet play his way to France.
“Billy has been on it the whole time. The influence he has on a team is massive – on both sides of the ball,” George said.
“Everyone talks about his carrying but jeez his defence is good as well. His defence is so, so physical.”
🏟 Perth will be a vibe!
— Wallabies (@wallabies) June 28, 2022
England have compiled an eight-match winning run against Australia, who are not the force of old, but George insists victory is no formality.
“It’s seriously competitive. You play against Australia and it’s always fiercely competitive in the physical areas – set piece, breakdown and all-round physicality,” George said.
“We’ve been successful but I don’t think we can rely on the history. As we know, rugby is ever evolving and playing them down here is a very different story.
“We’re expecting to be right up against it come Saturday and in the two Tests after that.”