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How David Beckham is keeping Billy Vunipola company ahead of England title defence

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Wrecking-ball Billy Vunipola is taking inspiration from the England football set-up at St George’s Park, admitting that a goal celebration picture of David Beckham on the wall of his bedroom was “pretty cool”.

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Build-ups to recent Six Nations campaigns involved warm weather camps in Portugal but the pandemic forced a 2021 rethink and Eddie Jones decided to have his squad assemble for the tournament at the training home of English football in Burton. 

George’s Park is a facility decorated with multiple pieces of football memorabilia and it even extends to the bedrooms where Vunipola was struck by an image of Beckham hailing the goal he scored in 2001 to qualify England for the following year’s World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea.

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Eddie Jones sets the scene ahead of England’s Six Nations title defence

The last-gasp free-kick at Old Trafford was enough to salvage the 2-2 draw that sent England to the Far East and although Vunipola would have just only been a month shy of his ninth birthday at the time, the image helped him settle into his new training surrounding before Jones’ squad heads to their more familiar base at The Lensbury.  

“In my room, I have got David Beckham when he scored against Greece to qualify, that’s pretty cool,” said Vunipola. “I remember seeing highlights and I remember that celebration because I thought we had won something but they just qualified. That was pretty cool, though.   

“It’s pretty interesting to see how the set-up is here. Everything is pretty top level as you’d expect. But also it’s massive. We actually had to have an orientation class when we arrived to show us where we need to be. It’s pretty empty and it’s in the middle of nowhere, but to be able to be here is class in itself.” 

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Life at the facility, however, is a rather regimented existence given the precautions being taken to ensure England’s bio-secure bubble isn’t breached ahead of their February 6 Six Nations opener at home to Scotland. 

“It’s a bit stricter in terms of always washing our hands, wearing our masks, sitting at your own table for lunch. A thing we did before was doing lineout walks all the time where there is now a cap on the time we can be face to face. But again, we are very lucky to be here to adhere to these rules to allow us to play. We’d rather make that sacrifice so that we can play next week.

“There are certain times where we have to be in our rooms and only certain times where we can be outside of our rooms. To be able to have our own rooms and our own space sometimes can be tough because you want that face to face connections with people.”

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How David Beckham is keeping Billy Vunipola company ahead of England title defence

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