Billy Vunipola moved one step closer to making his comeback for England on Sunday afternoon.
The number eight had been out of action since picking up knee ligament damage in November, but a return well ahead of schedule allowed him to be selected for Saracens in their Premiership clash with Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.
Not only did the 24-year-old start the game (along with brother Mako) and come through it unscathed, but the fact that he played for 72 minutes before being replaced surely proves his fitness to the point where Eddie Jones would be giving serious consideration to using him against Scotland, either instead of Nathan Hughes from the start or as a replacement from the bench.
There had been many conflicting reports as to whether Vunipola’s recovery would be complete in time to play a part in the Six Nations this year. Jones had said last month that he hoped to include the 32-cap forward in the squad to face Ireland in the potential championship decider on March 18th, but the player himself seemed to give up all hope of playing in that game as he didn’t feel that he would recover in time.
Neither man would even have entertained the idea of him playing against Scotland next weekend, and yet that is now the situation that Jones and Vunipola find themselves in – and provided nothing goes wrong in training in midweek then it seems more likely than not that he will play some part in the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham.
Given how poorly England played against Italy last weekend and how they have been doing just enough to win matches without going for the jugular so far in this year’s tournament, Vunipola’s return will give them a huge psychological boost as they chase down a second consecutive grand slam.
He was named man of the match in three of England’s five matches in that march to the grand slam last year, and is an unquantifiable asset to Jones and the side.
On this week’s Oval Office Podcast, Jacques Burger talks about his battle with depression, Benetton Treviso’s Ian McKinley reviews Italy’s performance against England and Daniel Killick of The Attacking Scrum tells us what’s gone wrong with Wales.