Rugby: England's Billy Vunipola in hunt for Lions spot

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FILE PHOTO: Autumn Nations Cup - England Training

(Reuters) - England's Billy Vunipola hopes a strong showing in the Six Nations can help him cement a spot in Warren Gatland's British & Irish Lions squad for their tour of South Africa this year.

Vunipola missed Lions' 2017 visit to New Zealand due to injury but is confident he will be part of the squad that is scheduled to tour South Africa for eight matches between July 3 and Aug. 7.

The number eight, who has played just once since December, is expected to feature when England begin the defence of their Six Nations title against Scotland next weekend.

"A lot of people are afraid of saying, 'I want to go on the Lions tour' and making it clear, but that's one of my goals, throughout this Six Nations, to put myself in that shop window," Vunipola told British media.

"There are no crowds but Gatland holds a lot of weight in playing well for your country. We know Scotland are going to come here and give it their best shot and we have to be ready because we all want to be on that plane (to South Africa)."

The Lions tour is still in doubt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and various alternative scenarios are being discussed, with a decision expected before the end of February.

"I'm keen to go and play for the Lions," Vunipola added. "If it does go ahead, but my main focus is playing really well for England. That's the only thing I can do."

After opening against Scotland, England have home games against Italy and France and travel to Wales and, on the final day, Ireland.

(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)