Blockbusting English loose forward Billy Vunipola is “better than Kieran Read” and is now the world’s best No. 8, according for a former Irish international.


Neil Francis, the former second rower who played 36 times for Ireland between 1987 and 1996, made the verdict in a column for the Independent following England’s record 57-15 thrashing of the Irish in London over the weekend.

“It has been obvious for a number of seasons now that Billy Vunipola is the best number 8 in the world by a huge margin,” Francis wrote.

“On his day he is practically unplayable and if your tactical gambit is to try and rush him and chop tackle him before he gets up a head of steam your biggest problem will be just exactly where he pops up on the pitch.”

Francis reserved praise for the way in which England utilised the 1.88m, 130kg Vunipola, “even as an auxiliary scrumhalf at lineout time where he can throw pinpoint 30-metre passes to those outside him as he did in the Champions Cup back in May”, the 55-year-old said.

“His skill levels, his ball handling and his football intuition are even superior to those of Kieran Read.”

Francis made a point of highlighting Vunipola’s superiority over his Irish counterpart CJ Stander, who was “practically anonymous” at Twickenham.

“In economic terms, our economists class a recession as two consecutive quarters of negative growth in GDP. CJ Stander has not played a decent game of rugby in six quarters.

“A change has to be made here because he has become one-paced.”

Eddie Jones’ use of both Tom Curry and Sam Underhill in a dual-openside flanker role also earned praise from Francis, as the duo combined well to show plenty of promise throughout the contest.

“You just know that there is further room for improvement and England’s triumvirate at 6, 7 and 8 could lead them on to a World Cup victory,” Francis said.

By comparison, Ireland’s loose forwards ” seems to have no cohesion, dynamism or flair.”

Ireland have two matches against Wales over the next two weeks to rebound from the 42-point thumping before their World Cup campaign kicks off against Scotland in Yokohama on September 22.


As for England, they have a one-off clash against Italy at St James’ Park in Newcastle on September 7 remaining before their bid for a second world title gets underway against Tonga in Sapporo two weeks later.

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