Billy Vunipola believes his experience of having no rugby games in the first lockdown has him prepared to get through the nine weeks in between England matches this winter at a time when there is no certainty Saracens will be playing any game at all. 

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Having played their last Premiership on October 4, the relegated London club have been in a near ten-week limbo since then and while there is a rumour that they Championship might belatedly get underway on January 16, nothing is set in stone.

It’s a scenario that leaves England Test players like Vunipola facing a game-free winter, with nothing but training to fill their time in the 62-day gap in between next Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup final with France and the opening match of the 2021 Six Nations on February 6 against Scotland.   

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Dylan Hartley and Jamie Roberts talk Autumn Nations Cup and what could make rugby a better spectacle

“We have just had a massive break from Covid,” he explained. “I did quite a bit throughout that period so if it happens again, and fingers crossed it doesn’t, then I have had that experience to push myself and make sure I come into (England) camp if picked and selected ready to go. 

“I thought I did a good job of that last time. The next camp for England, if there aren’t any games, is the end of January so it’s actually not too long to wait for another game if we don’t have any games with Sarries lined up. I think we have something in the pipeline, it depends on whether they are going to announce it when everything is ready. 

“It’s actually pretty positive because I know I have a few weeks off after this. But other than that it is trying to get the club to be in a good place and hopefully we will come up next year. My main focus is trying to play well on Sunday (for England), trying to make sure I’m performing to a consistent basis,” said Vunipola.

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Twickenham will welcome 2,000 fans on Sunday, ending the plethora of behind closed doors games that Vunipola has been involved in with Saracens and England since matches resumed in August. He is hoping those fans at the ground and watching on TV will enjoy a spectacle to remember after a deluge of low frills rugby was labelled boring.

“I understand what people are saying. I do watch a lot of rugby and sometimes it can be a bit tough to keep your focus, especially when you have got your phone and your i-pad and everything around you, and you’re battling with other sports as well for new fans’ attention. 

We had a World Cup that was unbelievable. We had as many viewers in terms of our social interactions and TV viewers than we had previously so the game can’t have changed within that short time span. 

“Teams at the moment are prioritising winning and prioritising looking after themselves, especially with what we are going through with Covid. Everyone needs to look after themselves but we will come out of it and teams will start playing that free-running rugby again. 

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Winning has become way more important than playing the type of rugby that people want to watch. It will change, it always does. But even if you are watching like a TV viewer, having fans there is way better and way more interesting. I’m pumped to have crowds back.

“They add to the atmosphere. When people are there, we want to entertain them. It’s a bit like when you were younger and the girls used to turn up to PE and you always wanted to show off. But there’s no need for me to show off any more – I’m a married man!”

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