World Cup winner Lewis Moody believes Billy Vunipola’s quiet start to the tournament could be a blessing in disguise in England’s bid for glory in Japan.
Vunipola has undergone a considerable workload in recent weeks, starting all of England’s four World Cup warm-up matches in addition to the Red Rose’s three games against Tonga, the United States and Argentina in Japan.
The back-rower was set to miss England’s final group match against France with an ankle injury, with the game’s cancellation denying either Lewis Ludlam or Mark Wilson the chance to step up.
And although Vunipola is yet to have made the impact at the World Cup he would have liked, Moody believes teams successfully suppressing his influence can work in England’s favour.
“Billy’s an unbelievable player and I would have said he’s always first choice and is the one player you can rarely do without,” said Moody, speaking at Kingsholm Stadium for the RFU’s CBRE All Schools programme, supported by Canterbury.
“But without being disrespectful, he’s actually not had as big an impact in this tournament as potentially we thought.
“He’s obviously renowned around the world for being a key part of England’s game, so teams will do whatever they can to nullify him.
— Lewis Moody (@LewisMoody7) October 8, 2019
“But that is a benefit to England, because if he’s taking one, two, or three players out of the game – because that’s how many it takes to stop him – and it’s creating space elsewhere.
“For him, personally, it might be quite frustrating because he’s not having the same yardage and number of carries that he might like.
“But what it means is that’s he’s creating space for his team because the teams are so focussed on stopping him.”
Vunipola has evolved into one of England’s most prized assets in recent years, making 48 caps since his debut in 2013 and forming a fundamental part of the way Eddie Jones’ side operate.
But his potential absence in the knockout stages could allow others to earn the nod, a selection dilemma Moody believes could in fact benefit their cause.
“Billy’s played a lot recently, so I’d give him a rest and give Mark Wilson or Lewis Ludlam an opportunity,” he added.
“I really like what Lewis Ludlam brings to the game – it’s just whether or not he’s comfortable playing at No. 8.
“I think Mark’s more comfortable playing there, having done it more often, but I like what Lewis brings.
“I like his tenacity, so I’d rather have him on from the start with the ability to potentially bring Mark on.”
CBRE All Schools, supported by Canterbury, is one of the RFU’s key legacy programmes, set up to increase the number of state secondary schools playing rugby union in England. Visit www.englandrugby.com/allschools to find out more.