Jones reality check has Vunipola primed to batter Wallabies
Barnstorming England back rower Billy Vunipola predicts he’ll perform even better in the Test decider against the Wallabies, after revealing how a reality check from Eddie Jones and sessions with a psychologist helped him roar back on the international stage.
The Sydney-born 130-kilo wrecking ball carrier had been a mainstay of coach Jones’s pack for several seasons, amassing over 60 caps before being dropped last year.
“We had a chat and he just said he wanted to me to find my best version of myself and at the time I disagreed with him,” Vunipola said of England’s Australian coach in the lead up to the SCG Test.
“But looking back now he was right.
“I went through a different range of emotions. Obviously gutted to start with. However, I did understand the decision.
“I probably wasn’t playing to the level I wanted to and I just needed to find that consistency.”
Improved form for his club Saracens and injuries to other backrowers contributed to the 29-year-old No.8 getting a recall for the three-Test series against the Wallabies.
He played his first Test in over a year in the series opener in Perth.
“I didn’t express myself as I wanted to and a lot of that was down to the fact I didn’t want to make a mistake and I definitely played within myself,” Vunipola said.
“When I’m playing, I’m like a basketballer, I like to talk rubbish but back it up with my actions.
“I felt like I did that this (last) weekend – but I reckon I will be better this week.”
Vunipola’s more impactful performance in the second Test in Brisbane, where he scored England’s only try, came after he got a message from his father, former Tonga Test player Fe’ao, expressing disappointment in Billy’s performance in Perth.
“He was excited to see me play and how he just felt flat after the game because it wasn’t the person that he thought was going to turn up,” Vunipola said.
“So I wanted him to not send me another message like that. That was one of the small motivating factors but the biggest one was for myself – I wanted to go out there and put my best foot forward.”
Vunipola said he had never believed in psychologists but had turned to one after being dropped by Jones, as he sought some honest feedback because he thought his club coaches probably wouldn’t be harsh enough.
“I felt like I needed something extra, someone to tell me the honest truth and I found someone who was class and we talked nearly every day for six or seven months,” Vunipola said.
Extra fitness sessions and more attention to his diet, sleep and recovery have helped, along with a different approach to games.
“Its more of a conscious thing to think about how I want to perform,” Vunipola said.
“What I want to do in a game, not just turning up and just hoping it happens, which I got away with for a lot of years, but this little snag (getting dropped) helped me to find a better version of myself.”
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