England v France: Billy Vunipola says he's 'had to get smarter'

By Chris JonesBBC rugby union correspondent
Billy Vunipola
Billy Vunipola takes the ball into contact against opposite number and cousin Taulupe Faletau in last weekend's win over Wales
Autumn Nations Cup final - England v France
Date: Sunday, 6 December Kick-off: 14:00 GMT Venue: Twickenham
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Sounds, the BBC Sport app and website with live text commentary

England number eight Billy Vunipola says he is learning to become a smarter rugby player as a result of being targeted more by opposition teams.

The Saracens forward, 28, has started all four of England's games this autumn, winning his 55th cap against Wales last weekend.

"From what I've been experiencing in games, people try and target me a little bit more now," he said.

"So I have to be smarter in what I am doing."

And Vunipola says he is comfortable being forced to play a more understated role compared to previously in his international career, and is revelling in the "unseen" sides of the game.

"At the moment I am quietly doing my work," he told BBC Sport.

"Sometimes people want to see the flashy stuff, the highlights reel, but I know I add to the team, something which sometimes goes unseen.

"I can't be the one who is always carrying, because people are calling out my name and I can hear them.

"To be honest sometimes it is frustrating, but I am looking for any way that I can to carry the ball, even to the point at kick-offs I am swapping either side to try and make them kick to me, but sometimes they don't want to kick me the ball.

Billy Vunipola
Vunipola carried the ball 19 times - eight times more than any other England player - in the Rugby World Cup final defeat by South Africa last year

"It is things like that that sometimes people don't see. But we have so many options as well, our props are very good carriers, [so too] our hooker, and our second rows are basically back rows anyway.

"I am enjoying it, we are sharing the workload and going well."

With Exeter's in-form Sam Simmonds currently surplus to requirements, Vunipola is the only specialist number eight in the squad, and has played the full 80 minutes in each of England's autumn matches.

And while his performance against Wales was more industrious than eye-catching, Vunipola still managed a substantial 17 carries in the 24-13 win.

"The thing I am happiest with is that I am fit, and I'm not looking at the clock hoping it's 80 minutes and I can go off because I am tired," Vunipola added.

"They train us hard here in camp but it is also crazy enjoyable."

'My wife doesn't want our son to play rugby'

Billy Vunipola
Vunipola has suffered a series of arm injuries during his career

Two thousand England supporters will be allowed at Twickenham for Sunday's Autumn Nations Cup showdown with France, although it comes a little too soon for Vunipola's newborn son Judah, who arrived in November.

Whether the younger Vunipola follows in his father's footsteps, is a point of concern with wife Simmone.

"His mum doesn't want him to play rugby, we will try and convince him otherwise," smiled Vunipola, who suffered four arm breaks in two years and admitted he had previously been distracted by the trappings of being one of the game's stars.

"I think she has seen me in pain and seen me sometimes at my worst, with my injuries and trying to get back and the toll it takes on you. But the highs outweigh the lows for me.

"But it is not a decision we are going to make for him. I might push him in that direction but if he doesn't want to do it and wants to do [something else], I am with him all the way.

"Whatever he wants to do I am cool with it."

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