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'Billy Vunipola does what he does best, he runs over fellas'

Ireland’s 38-man squad is back in Carton House preparing for a huge clash with England.

BILLY VUNIPOLA HAS played for England a handful of times in the last two years, but it’s fair to say that he hasn’t been able to show his true quality in the white shirt since 2016.

That year, England won a Grand Slam, enjoyed a clean sweep of their June Test series in Australia and beat South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and the Wallabies in November.

There were many contributing factors to that success, of course, and many reasons for England’s relative struggles in more recent times, but Billy Vunipola is a central figure.

Iain Henderson and Rory Best tackle Billy Vunipola Vunipola is set for his England return this weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Finally fit and seemingly free of injury, the return of the Saracens powerhouse for England could be a gamechanger in the coming weeks, starting in Dublin on Saturday.

His older brother, loosehead prop Mako, is also back in the England squad having missed last year’s November Tests and the Vunipola brothers should make Eddie Jones’ side a different beast.

“Mako is a loosehead but the way he’s able to ball-play, he brings that extra dimension for them,” said Ireland wing Keith Earls today.

“Billy does what he does best, he runs over fellas and he’s quite physical.

“As a whole, I know they’re talking about physicality and it’s nothing new when you face England or you face a Six Nations game – it’s going to be physical no matter who you play and that’s what we’re expecting again on Saturday.

“Every game we play in is brutal and physical because it’s 15 men trying to kill another 15 men within the rules of the game, you know? I’d obviously expect a game like that to be brutal, brutally physical.”

England, who finished fifth in last year’s Six Nations after a torrid campaign, enjoyed an upturn in form in November, pushing the All Blacks close after a fortunate win over the Springboks, and beating Japan and the Wallabies on home soil.

England boss Jones has been weighing up recalling Mike Brown to the 15 shirt after Elliot Daly struggled there in November, while Manu Tuilagi is back in the squad to offer a powerful midfield option.

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Mike Brown Mike Brown could be recalled in the 15 shirt. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

With Joe Launchbury returning, Jones has strong lock choices too, while Jonny May, Chris Ashton, Jack Nowell, Daly and Joe Cokanasiga provide lethal wing possibilities.

“Just looking at some of the back three that they have picked and it’s hard to believe that one or two of them are going to miss out on selection – they’re world-class players,” said Earls.

“I think with the Vunipola brothers coming back, they are going to have threats all over the field. We’re going to have to start strong, not like we did in the last couple of years where we kind of had a slow start or a Johnny Sexton kick getting us out of trouble.

“I suppose that puts a lot of pressure on us as well. We know the challenge that’s in front of us is massive.”

Ireland had an enjoyable five-day visit to The Campus in Quinta do Lago in Portugal last week, with Earls describing the facilities as “incredible” and highlighting how the camp allowed Joe Schmidt’s men to nail down the detail required for this England clash.

Now back in Carton House, where Schmidt’s 38-man squad – Adam Byrne has remained with the group this week – are all said to be fit and available for selection, Ireland will look to start their Grand Slam defence with a statement against England.

“We have been on a good roll, but we will never get too carried away with ourselves. We still have lots to work on,” said Earls.

“We had a lot of mistakes in November. We are trying to build towards a perfect performance, which is probably impossible but we build towards it. Hopefully, that will be enough to get us the result.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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