Lawrence Dallaglio column: England must be clever to get best from Billy Vunipola again

Lawrence Dallaglio column: England must be clever to get best from Billy Vunipola again

Billy Vunipola has been a long way from his best when playing for England recently.

The last thing the Saracens powerhouse No8 needed was to miss further matches through red-card suspension, after a long knee injury absence.

The 30-year-old always needs regular rugby to find his rhythm, and England will want him involved as much as possible now he is available after his ban.

Let’s hope that he can find his way back to his very destructive best, thanks to the motivation of repaying his coaches and team-mates who have stuck with him during that ban.

England need to add an extra layer of intelligence to the way they use Vunipola, both on and off the ball. It cannot be a situation where the opposition are just using Vunipola as tackle practice.

England must put him in the position where his involvements carry significant impact.

Steve Borthwick and his coaches could do worse than study old Saracens tapes and examine exactly when Vunipola receives the ball and when he does not. Use him in an obvious way and all they will do is put a target on his back.

Back in action: Billy Vunipola is available again for England after his two-match suspension (Getty Images)
Back in action: Billy Vunipola is available again for England after his two-match suspension (Getty Images)

A bit more intelligence and input from the players, and England can get the best out of Vunipola again.

There are many ways to get over the gainline, with Billy and without him, so I’d like to see a lot more intelligence and craft from England now. It exists in that squad and for whatever reason we are not really using it.

We shouldn’t be obsessed with how many carries he makes for how many metres. Sometimes less can be more if the times he does get on the ball are all the more impactful as a result.

England’s 27-10 win over Argentina to open their Pool D account at the World Cup will boost confidence and momentum in the squad no end. England had got into a losing habit, so now they need to back up that Pumas performance with another step forward against Japan.

George Ford delivered a masterful performance to capitalise on England’s opportunities to score points. Test rugby is more about managing the scoreboard than many realise. There is genuine power in seeing the scoreboard tick over regularly.

Owen Farrell will be available after his own red-card suspension for the third match against Chile, and England will bring their captain back quickly. England might not have gone into the tournament with a Ford-Farell 10-12 combination in mind, but that is easily how it could end up.

Use Vunipola in an obvious way and all England will do is put a target on his back

Borthwick’s men need all their world-class players on the pitch at the same time. On their day, Ford and Farrell are both world-class.

Farrell will play a big part in this tournament, but then Ford has already made his own statement. There will be a place for them both in the coming weeks.

Ford’s 27-point haul against Argentina said everything about his performance. He gave England vital breathing space in what otherwise could have been a proper tussle. The Sale star is far more than just a drop-goal specialist, however.

If England can win the gainline with carrying, then Ford can start to do some special things in attack as well. He wants to take the ball to the line, as does Farrell at 10.

If England can start to bolster their attacking game now, they can manoeuvre into position to do themselves justice at this World Cup.

The players may very well have sat down with the coaches and had some positive conversations about their approach.

More input from the players will mean Ford and Farrell become more important — and that can only be a good thing for England.