Saracens and England No.8 Billy Vunipola has returned from his injury layoff with a renewed perspective, with a hunger to become a better player than before after realising he had become ‘too big for my shoes’.
In an interview with The Guardian, Vunipola explained his nerves were greater than usual returning to the pitch against Sale.
“I was a bit tentative and anxious,” he said after returning to action from his third broken arm.
“Before I was a bit naive that I could fall straight into it, whereas now I am a bit more prepared. And scared as well. But it’s a good thing to have that fear. It will hopefully drive me and help me to protect myself better.”
After long stints on the sidelines that saw just three England caps over two years, Vunipola says the experience humbled him for the better.
“The biggest thing was to become humble again. I think I was becoming too big for my shoes. You don’t know it is happening until you realise how much you rate yourself. This time I want to keep my head down and just work hard.”
Vunipola has battled injuries to his shoulders, knees and arms over the last two years, a sign of how physical the professional game is becoming. A new RFU report has revealed the number of injuries suffered at the elite level in English is on the rise, something that Vunipola thinks is ‘scary’ but unavoidable given the advancements seen in the defensive side of the game at the pro-level.
“The report is scary but I’m not sure how to address it,” Vunipola said.
“It is just the way the game has gone. Everyone is so desperate to win that defences have just become so unbelievably tough to break down and sometimes the only way to break it down is to run over or through people.
“I don’t know how it is going to change. You can’t just tell someone who has worked his whole life that he has to lose size otherwise someone else will use size to batter them down.”
Vunipola says his aim is to make a return with the national side and play for England again, but this time he is driven to become a better player.
“I just want to be like everyone else,” he said. “I want to play, I want to experience Twickenham again, I want to experience the Six Nations rugby again. And those times on Thursdays when you have those chocolates. Those are the things you take for granted. I want to stay fit but I don’t want to be mediocre.”
“I want to be fit and good,” he said.
“And I don’t want to be the same player, I want to be better as well.”
A fit and firing Billy Vunipola in 2019 will be music to the ears of England coach Eddie Jones ahead of pivotal World Cup campaign.
In other news:
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