Billy Vunipola: There’s only so much respect you can give to Irish duo
PUBLISHED: 14:24 11 February 2014 | UPDATED: 14:24 11 February 2014
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England No.8 Billy Vunipola respects Ireland greats Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, but that admiration will vanish at Twickenham.
A pivotal clash looms on Saturday week when the unbeaten Irish, now second favourites behind France to win the Championship, put their Grand Slam dream on the line against Stuart Lancaster’s men.
Leading the assault will be British and Irish Lions captains O’Driscoll and O’Connell, who between them have made 22 appearances against England, accumulating 15 wins.
All that experience will be brought to bear at Twickenham with O’Driscoll’s final appearance in the fixture before retiring at the end of the season adding an emotional dimension.
But their reputations will be forgotten by 21-year-old Vunipola, England’s marauding back row who has made a ball-wrecking start to his first Six Nations.
“It’s a massive honour to play against them having seen them in previous Ireland-England games and the Lions tours where they’ve been captains,” he said.
“But there’s only so much respect you can give them, because once you’re on the pitch you’re trying to beat them.
“I’m young and I just go out there and try to do my job, but Ireland are obviously a great team, they’re unbeaten at the moment.
“Hopefully we can be the ones to beat them.”
Ireland’s rolling maul was instrumental in their 26-3 rout of Wales and Vunipola believes winning the forward battle should decide the outcome.
“The maul is a big part of their game,” the Saracens number eight said.
“They try to mix it up between their forwards and backs, but they do look to the pack for go-forward with the likes of Paul O’Connell as the engine.
“If we can stop him and the rest of their forwards doing that, I think we’ve got a good chance of winning.”
A tight Six Nations could be decided by points difference and it is this possibility that left England regretting the only flaw of an otherwise impressive 20-0 victory over Scotland.
“It’s awesome to put 20 points on Scotland, and nil them as well, but we left a few points out there,” Vunipola said.
“Just before half time and a few times in the second half there were moments when we should have been more clinical as a team. We’re growing and still got a lot to work on.”