Rugby: Vunipola determined to enjoy Dublin visit
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Saracens’ Billy Vunipola hopes to enjoy a more memorable visit to Dublin when England launch their Guinness Six Nations title quest after a boozy session two years ago saw him carried out of a nightclub.
Vunipola was pictured leaving the Russell Court Hotel at 4.30am supported by a member of the squad’s security detail in the aftermath of a 13-9 defeat that denied the Grand Slam at the final hurdle with the title already secured.
The number eight was returning from a knee injury at the Aviva Stadium and will win only his third cap since that day in Saturday’s seismic 2019 opener having recovered from a succession of broken arms and shoulder surgery.
Once teetotal, Vunipola suffered more than anyone as England celebrated their second successive Six Nations crown under Eddie Jones on a night he is adamant will not be repeated on Saturday.
Vunipola said: “I don’t have any memory of that. All I know is that I am not getting in that state ever again!
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“I have learnt from that, it’s a learning curve. I didn’t realise until the day after. It wasn’t a great time for myself, but hopefully I won’t do that to my family again.
“You’ve got to have some control of yourself and I probably didn’t. I guess I did (say I was teetotal) but you have to own the situation. It’s funny to talk about now, but at the time it wasn’t that funny.
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“But news is news. Like I said, if I could have more control – but this is the first game of this Six Nations – I might have a soft drink after but no further than that.”
Ireland are positioned second in the world rankings behind New Zealand – who they toppled on Irish soil for the first time in November – and enter the title clash as favourites.
However, Vunipola insists all the scrutiny remains on Jones’ title pretenders
“Is the pressure ever off when you’re with England? Exactly. The one thing people skim over is – if we lose it’s ‘Eddie out’. The pressure is never off,” Vunipola said.
“We’re never not under pressure. If you lose when you play for England, that’s it. Even living in St Albans, the first time I walked there people thought I was a bus driver. Now they know who I am.
“It’s scary how quickly time goes on and the exposure we get as a team. It’s not a joke. So there’s definitely pressure.
“If we win it’s ‘well it’s about time they turned up’, if we lose it’s ‘right, who’s out? That number eight is rubbish’.
“Or if someone drops one ball it’s ‘get him off, I don’t know why he’s in there’. The scrutiny with England is intense. But it’s part and parcel of the job.”
After he was ruled of last autumn’s series by a third broken arm in less than 12 months, Jones joked that he would take care of Vunipola “like he’s the king’s baby” knowing his importance to England’s World Cup bid. It is a plan the 26-year-old rejects.
“I’d feel guilty if I was. Plus, you get a lot of heat from the boys if that ever happened,” Vunipola added.
“For me I want to get as many minutes on my feet as possible, especially within this environment which I’ve been away from for so long.
“I just want to keep my head down, I’m not about being wrapped up. I’m just happy to be back.”