Daily Express


Great England goal lifts No8

- By Alex Spink

BILLY VUNIPOLA is getting in the mood for England’s Six Nations defence by sleeping with a picture of David Beckham’s greatest goal.

The image of Becks’ injury-time glory strike against Greece 20 years ago adorns the wall of Vunipola’s room at St George’s Park, where England are preparing to kick off their campaign against Scotland.

The Red Rose No8 hopes the freeze-framed sight of Beckham, below, so dramatical­ly snatching England a place in the 2002 World Cup finals will serve as inspiratio­n for the upcoming tournament.

“That was a pretty cool moment,” said Vunipola, whose focus now switches from Three Lions to British and Irish Lions. His dream of making the 2017 tour was dashed by injury and he is desperate to make up for lost time, assuming the tour is able to go ahead somehow and somewhere.

“A lot of people are afraid of saying ‘I want to go on the Lions tour’ – and making that clear,” he said. “But that’s one of my goals, throughout this Six Nations, to put myself in that shop window and show that I can perform at the highest level.”

England have won eight in a row and head to Twickenham a week today as both Six Nations champions and Autumn Nations Cup holders. And Vunipola said: “It’s about not using winning as an excuse not to be a better player or a better team.

“We’ve got a target on our heads and everyone is trying to build us up as favourites, which is fine. We’ve got to take that mantra on and keep playing the way we play. We’ve got to be prepared to bulldoze teams and not just sit back.”

The question marks hanging over England concern how they will cope without injured forwards Sam Underhill, Joe Launchbury and Mako Vunipola, not to mention unavailabl­e props Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler. But also will Vunipola and his Saracens club-mates who have played next to no rugby in the last two months be undercooke­d?

Big Billy believes he will hit the ground running, having been alone amongst the Sarries contingent in playing a club game, albeit a second-tier friendly. “In the autumn I thought I’d got to a level I hadn’t been for a few years,” he added.

“After a good chat with Eddie we decided I should go straight back into training with the aim of starting where I left off. I’m confident about my body physically. I’m excited to show what I can do in these games.”

England boss Jones believes Vunipola will hit the ground running
FIT FOR ACTION England boss Jones believes Vunipola will hit the ground running
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