Billy Vunipola: ‘I thought tackle school would be like sucking eggs – but it helped me’

England defence coach Kevin Sinfield and Billy Vunipola
Billy Vunipola has learnt to lower his tackle height after being coached by Kevin Sinfield, right, in a coach's tackle clinic - Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Poised for his first start of England’s World Cup campaign, Billy Vunipola is thankful for an unexpectedly helpful stint at Kevin Sinfield’s tackle school.

Vunipola was sent off in the second half of England’s third warm-up game against Ireland following a high tackle on opposing prop Andrew Porter. Thanks to a clean disciplinary record over his career, the 30-year-old was eligible for World Rugby’s coaching intervention, commonly known as ‘tackle school’, and used it to reduce his ban from three weeks to two.

Although he still missed England’s opening game of the tournament, a 27-10 victory over Argentina in Marseille, Vunipola returned from the bench against Japan and is now poised to face Chile in Lille. Though initially sceptical, the No 8 found the practice to be useful.

“Kev is very well rehearsed in running those tackle schools, which is probably not a good thing for me to say. For me it did feel a bit like sucking eggs but it taught me a lot in terms of my technique,” admitted Vunipola, who will join forces in the back row with Lewis Ludlam and Jack Willis against Chile.

“[Sinfield] is very good at his job, so it only took us one time to do because when you do it you have to film it. I learned a lot about using my arms, and the biggest thing was lowering my height.

“I am such a big guy I am so used to using my body as a mechanism to stop someone rather than technically getting in the right position. It was good for me so hopefully you won’t be seeing any of that any more.”

High tackles, cards and suspensions have remained in the spotlight throughout this World Cup. Tom Curry was sent off against Argentina following his collision with Juan Cruz Mallía and Ethan de Groot, the New Zealand prop, was dismissed against Namibia.

The tournament remains on tenterhooks over whether Antoine Dupont, the phenomenal France scrum-half, will play any further part in the tournament. Dupont sustained a facial fracture when Johan Deysel, the Namibia centre and skipper, clattered him during Thursday evening’s pool fixture. Deysel’s challenge, an upright tackle in midfield that caused a head clash, earned him a red card.

Sinfield has been busy conducting tackle clinics over recent years. Even though Owen Farrell was ineligible following his own pre-season red card, having already used the coaching intervention programme to reduce a suspension and make himself available for the beginning of the Six Nations, Curry has attended ‘tackle school’.

While defence coach of Leicester Tigers under Borthwick, Ollie Chessum and Guy Porter underwent the initiative, which comprises various training modules.

“We practise tackle skills most days, in short blocks, and we are very smart in the risk and safety and how we employ it,” Sinfield explained. “The tackle school has a most specific nature to it. Billy was outstanding in the work he has done, we have just completed Tom Curry’s as well.

“I have done a number of them now but these guys are humans and when they are in a competition like this and intense as this, unfortunately players are going to make mistakes. We try and help them and keep working with them.

“We are seeing this at elite level but it is grass roots where we have got to be helping people and keep pushing tackling and also understand sometimes people get it wrong.”

Sinfield and Danny Care both sent their best wishes to Dupont, bidding him a speedy recovery from a facial fracture.

“In the World Cup, you want to see the best players,” Care said. “Antoine is the best player in the world, so we want to see him back there in a French shirt.”