Billy and Mako Vunipola used their faith to keep alive their hopes of helping England defend their Six Nations title.
Prop forward Mako made his comeback from a two-month lay-off with a knee injury as a replacement in England’s 36-15 win over Italy, and topped up his fitness by helping Saracens to a 35-27 win at Newcastle in the Aviva Premiership on Sunday.
Younger brother Billy made his comeback from an even longer lay-off in that match, playing all but 80 minutes in his first appearance since being carried from the pitch on a stretcher against Argentina last November.
The 24-year-old number eight is now set to win his 33rd cap in England’s Calcutta Cup match against Scotland on Saturday, when Eddie Jones’ men will seek a record-equalling 18th successive win.
“I talked to Eddie this week and I said to him that, if I came through the game and I feel okay, we can talk but I’d love to be back in the mix,” Billy Vunipola said after his side’s five-try victory.
“I don’t want to disrespect anyone by saying I’m going to walk straight in. If he wants me to play, I’m more than happy to but I’m still waiting for his call.”
Billy Vunipola returned three weeks ahead of schedule but revealed he shunned the modern cryotherapy chamber to fast-track his recovery in favour of pinning his faith in his religion.
“I don’t really believe in that stuff,” he said. “I think I went in the cryo chamber once, maybe twice, because I had to. Every time they tell me to go in, I stand around for a bit and pretend I’ve been in there.
“Other than that, I just tried to stay clear and let God do his thing. I think with me and my brother, the biggest thing is probably our faith. We knew we had to take this opportunity as a blessing.”
Billy Vunipola says he spent much of his four months out socialising before getting down to the hard graft in an effort to regain match fitness and insists he will be ready to face Scotland if, as expected, he gets the call.
“I’ve been doing a lot of different stuff to keep me sane,” he said. “When you’re in the gym basically the whole time, it can drive you crazy. Any chance I can get out and do some skills and keep topping it up, I try to do that as much as possible.
“I had three months where I had the time of my life. I had good fun, met a lot of people, socialising a lot, and now I have just turned it down a bit. We had a four-week block where we just hit it hard – every day was a double weights session into a fitness session.
“That was a tough period but now that I’m out of it, I can see the good that’s come of it. Today I didn’t feel like I was playing a pre-season game. I felt good. I know that training is going to be tough, Eddie’s always said that his training will get you prepared for a game so if he wants to play (me), I’ll be fine.
“I’ve been in to see the boys and it’s nice to see them but at the moment I feel a little bit on the outer so I’d like to get back in and get involved with all the lads.”
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said both brothers had come through Sunday’s game unscathed and that Billy stayed on longer than expected at his own request.
“I thought he was pretty good,” McCall said. “He probably played a bit longer than we anticipated but he felt good during the game, which was a really positive sign.
“We were going to wait and see how he was and how he felt. He said he felt good at half-time and wanted a bit more and so we gave him a bit more. I thought he made some good contributions and he’s going to get better and better after that. I’d be very surprised if he’s not in the squad.”
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