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Exclusive by James Cunliffe
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Billy Vunipola has enjoyed arguably his best year as a rugby player, joining brother Mako with a move to Saracens that preceded England Test recognition - but ask him to asses 2013 and he admits he’s a work in progress.
The back row’s pulverising performances, first with Wasps and now with Sarries, piqued the interest of Red Rose head coach Stuart Lancaster and he repaid that faith by scoring a hat-trick on his debut in an uncapped match on this summer’s tour of Argentina. He then scored again on his Test debut against the Pumas before playing in all of three recent autumn internationals – the last of which came against world champions New Zealand.
A spirited fightback at Twickenham saw England come up short, going down 30-22, but Vunipola got a close up view of the All Blacks player who was named IRB World Player of the Year earlier this month.
“I think I’ve done OK,” said Vunipola on his whirlwind year, adding: “I’m no Kieran Read and nor do I want to be, but that’s what I’m targeting, to try to get to his level.
“I just want to play well for Sarries first and foremost and we’ll see if that takes me places.
“Playing for England was definitely my biggest honour. To get in the squad this year was awesome but I need to keep playing well for the club and hopefully that will keep me in the squad.”
Vunipola, who scored his second Saracens try in last week’s scintilating six-score 49-10 thrashing of Premiership champions Leicester Tigers, admits to feeling completely at home at the Hendon club after a somewhat controversial switch from Wasps in the summer.
Dai Young was convinced the forward would pen a new contract to stay at Adams Park only to be informed, hours before it was announced, that Vunipola had already agreed a move to Saracens.
“I don’t really think about it anymore, to be honest,” the back row said of the switch after the win over Tigers, adding: “I’m halfway through a season and I’m just enjoying it.
“I’m not thinking about Wasps or how they’re doing, I’m just going in every day [at Saracens], training hard and trying to play well.
“I’ve fitted in quite well, I’m enjoying and that’s half of it. Just getting into the way Saracens work, hopefully I can keep it going, but it’s going well.”