Only so much respect – Vunipola

Date published: February 11 2014

England number eight Billy Vunipola is adamant his side will not show Ireland's big names too much respect at Twickenham.

England number eight Billy Vunipola is adamant his side will not show Ireland's big names too much respect at Twickenham.

After a bruising display with ball in hand in the opening round of the Six Nations against France, Vunipola picked up where he'd left off in Paris: he finished Saturday's 20-0 defeat of Scotland with 58 metres from 16 carries, six defenders beaten and seven tackles made.

Standing next to the hulking 21-year-old is quite a humbling experience; his awesome size and power is tempered with a measure of boyish bashfulness as he laughs his way through several questions.

In a little under a fortnight, England welcome unbeaten Ireland to Twickenham still seeking a “complete performance”. Round One's late defeat in Paris meant an impressive second-half display left a bitter taste in the mouth, while Vunipola was not alone in admitting England “left a few points out there” in the Murrayfield mud.

This clash with Joe Schmidt's troops is one many in the media and the stands have their eyes on; it should prove a timely assessment of an England team with much promise ahead of the World Cup, but little in the way of tangible rewards.

“I always look forward to a challenge,” announced Vunipola.

“As a team and as a pack, we all do. For some reason, we always get knocked for being too young, but I think we relish these challenges; we want those challenges. At Twickenham, in front of the home crowd, it'll be a good game.

“Next week, we've got a few things to work on again, as a team we'll take that into Ireland and hopefully get one over on them. They beat Wales quite convincingly.”

Much has been made of the Irish pack's ability to hold up and isolate tacklers; swarming green jerseys rushing in from all sides to perform the now-famous “choke tackle”. As England's carrier-in-chief, the Saracens back-row acknowledges the effectiveness of this tactic, and how he and his team-mates must stay low to avoid being swallowed up, or mauled backwards.

“They're a well-drilled team, but we are as well,” added Vunipola.

“They mix it up very well between forwards and backs, especially Paul O'Connell. If we can stop him and the pack, we've got a good chance.

“If you're lower than them in the tackle or maul, it's much easier. Once you've been caught high, they can really push you back and once they're under you it's hard to stop it without sacking it. That's the key, trying to get as low or lower than them.”

Vunipola, somewhat refreshingly, knows the value of his spot among the big boys; he talks in tones of youthful disbelief as he tells of looking around at scrum-time and realising he's packing down beside Chris Robshaw.

But although the number eight has but a handful of Test caps to his name, he is determined not to be overawed at sharing the field with Messrs O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll.

“Packing down next to Chris Robshaw, I feel like I've got to pinch myself,” admitted Vunipola.

“I imagine how I got to that position and feel so lucky, and that's why I love playing for England so much. I know how lucky I am.

“Seeing them (O'Connell and O'Driscoll) in previous Ireland games, on British and Irish Lions tours, as captains, it's a massive honour to play against them, but there's only so much respect you give to them.”

By Jamie Lyall @JLyall93