England happy to risk Billy Vunipola against Italy
Watch England take on Italy in their final World Cup warm-up, live on Sky Sports Action from 7pm on Friday
By PA Media
Last Updated: 05/09/19 6:42am
England are prepared to risk starting Billy Vunipola throughout the build-up to the World Cup in the belief that he is at his most effective when playing regularly.
Vunipola is the only member of Eddie Jones' 31-man squad who will have started all four Tests this summer after the Saracens number eight was retained for Friday night's game against Italy in Newcastle - live on Sky Sports.
Given the extensive injury list that has scarred his recent career - including three broken arms in 2018 - continually sending one of Jones' most influential players into action during a series of warm-up games could be viewed as a gamble.
But forwards coach Steve Borthwick insists that banking as many match minutes as possible is crucial for the 26-year-old as they look to build momentum ahead of the World Cup in Japan.
"Billy absolutely wants to play. He's a player who thrives on playing - that is how you get the best out of him," Borthwick said.
"He loves playing the game and doesn't want to miss any. Look at the back row - we have had some knocks and bruises. It is about what is right for each player."
Vunipola's Saracens team-mate Owen Farrell, who will lead England out at St James' Park, shares Borthwick's view.
"Billy has been playing really well and is trying to keep it going. He enjoys getting the ball in his hands," Farrell said.
"It's important for him to be playing in the big games in which we have been involved over the last four weeks. He has got a big smile on his face because of it."
Meanwhile, Vunipola made his own feelings clear after Ireland had been thrashed 57-15 at Twickenham on August 24.
"I'm more than happy to keep going. After all my injuries and time away from the game, I'm just glad to be playing at close to the level I was operating at before," Vunipola said.
"It is all about keeping on building my fitness. If I can be fit and strong, I can help the team."
Watch England vs Italy live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event from 7pm on Friday