Billy Vunipola: England No 8 wants to ‘get his elbows and knees dirty’ by playing games

Billy Vunipola was the only member of Saracens’ England contingent to play against Ealing Trailfinders on Saturday, with the others put on specialised pre-season programmes ahead of the Six Nations clash with Scotland on February 6

Billy Vunipola will continue to favour playing over training as he plots his own path towards fitness for England’s Six Nations title defence.

Vunipola was the only member of Saracens’ England contingent on parade at Vallis Way on Saturday as the country’s solitary match of the weekend ended in a 27-26 defeat by Ealing Trailfinders.

While Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola and Jamie George have been put on specialised pre-season programmes to prepare them for the Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland on February 6, a different approach has been taken with loose forward Vunipola.

Both England head coach Eddie Jones and Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall have stated that the 28-year-old No 8 gains more benefit from time spent on the pitch having endured long spells of inactivity while recovering from four broken arms.

“Firstly I’d rather play than train. I can’t get my head around training all the time as it’s not my goal,” Vunipola said.

“I really enjoy playing and being around the boys and also having something to look forward to at the end of the week. I’m a very emotional person so that brings me up as well.

“Also, I’ve been injured a lot so I want to take advantage of every game I get, every opportunity to toughen my body up to be ready for whatever comes in the future.

“I’ve been out for a few months consecutively and for me personally I feel the more I play the better my body is at adapting to the rigours of the game.”

Vunipola’s preference for playing extends to the Trailfinders Challenge Cup, a pre-season tournament that acts as the curtain-raiser to the Greene King IPA Championship.

A Saracens team weakened by the absence of their England players and eight personnel banned for their involvement in the Barbarians’ breach of coronavirus protocols in October suffered a setback in their first match since being relegated from the Gallagher Premiership, but amends can be made at Doncaster Knights on Saturday.

Only six weeks ago Vunipola was lifting the Autumn Nations Cup at Twickenham, but he is happy to continue roaming the grounds of the second tier of English club rugby.

“I’ll talk to Mark on Monday but at the moment I’m all in. It’s not my decision. I just want to help the team as much as I can,” he said.

“I am keen. We have been training on rubber crumb the last few weeks and I would like to get on some grass. I hope it’s quite muddy at Doncaster – I’m quite keen to get my elbows and knees dirty.”

Jones names his Six Nations squad on Friday, with the players gathering the following week at St George’s Park, the Staffordshire training base used by England’s football team.

Vunipola said: “I just hope the Wi-Fi there is good. I hear it’s out in the sticks but with the footballers using it, I know the Wi-Fi will be class!

“I look forward to it. We spend a lot of time in our rooms so you need to get something to watch.

“I love watching eating videos, bodybuilding and random stuff. Eating challenges – Beard v Food, he is the man.”

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