Saracens comment: Vunipola’s return a boost ahead of title defences
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The early return of Saracens’ Billy Vunipola against Newcastle Falcons following more than three months out with injury, came as a huge boost as they prepare to defend their domestic and European crowns.
The no.8, who was due to return after the Six Nations, returned three weeks ahead of schedule and inspired the Hendon-based club to a bonus-point 35-27 victory against Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park on Sunday.
It was Saracens’ first away win since their visit to Leicester Tigers on New Year’s Day.
However, Vunipola’s return to action will undoubtedly boost confidence in the squad, particularly as the following two fixtures are the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi final and final if the North Londoners are to progress it means he won’t be missing any remaining league or European fixtures.
Having also been drafted into the England squad immediately after the win at Newcastle ahead of England’s Six Nations clash against Scotland on Saturday, Sarries director of rugby Mark McCall was full of praise for his medical team.
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“It’s been an incredible effort from all concerned,” he said. “Our medical team, strength and conditioning team and Billy should take a lot of credit for their tireless work.
“Billy is coming back three weeks ahead of schedule, which is some feat, and it is another example of the benefits of having a joined-up rugby and medical department.”
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However, he will need to come through the test at Twickenham on Saturday before a potential Six Nations and grand slam decider with England in Dublin the following week before his and his fellow Sarries and England stars’ services will be required for the resumption of the Premiership.
With Saracens yet to play four of the top seven sides in the Premiership - all vying for a top four finish - the defending champions will be close to a full strength side when Bath visit Allianz Park on March 26.
Indeed, Vunipola, who has been instrumental for Saracens this campaign prior to picking up the knee injury, has certainly been missed in recent weeks. Against the Falcons his ball carrying and strength in defence was reminiscent of the Vunipola we’ve been so accustomed to seeing on so many occasions in the league and in the Champions Cup this term.
Keeping a clean bill of health for Vunipola will be sure to hold Sarries in good stead for securing a semi final league clash as well as in the home quarter final tie against Glasgow Warriors in the Champions Cup.
A full strength Saracens side at both home and away will be a force to be reckoned with. And as only one point separates third place Sarries with Exeter Chiefs in second, the final five fixtures will provide an intriguing finish to the domestic season.
For now though, attention will turn to Sarries’ young guns who will face Leicester Tigers in this weekend’s Anglo-Welsh semi-final at Allianz Park.
In a re-run of the final pool game of the competition, Saracens will be firm favourites having dominated last time out but the Tigers will be sure to put up a sterner test.