England v Ireland: Billy Vunipola braced for ‘in your face’ Ireland


Billy Vunipola
Vunipola also started England’s 40-0 win over Georgia last weekend
Date: Saturday 21 November Kick-off: 15:00 GMT Venue: Twickenham
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and Radio Ulster with text commentary on the BBC Sport website.

England number eight Billy Vunipola says he is expecting a tough battle against an “in your face” Ireland team in Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup match.

England have won the last three meetings but Vunipola told BBC Sport: “Ireland are motivated and tenacious.

“It is not just ‘we want to do well’, it is ‘England are there and we want to take them down’. They want to play a brand of rugby that is in your face.”

Coach Eddie Jones says it is England’s “most important game of the year”.

The Australian, who was appointed five years ago on Friday, has once again ensured headlines with his pre-match comments.

As well as questioning the scrummaging technique of Ireland prop Andrew Porter, Jones joked about the residency qualification that has brought five southern-hemisphere raised players into the visitors’ starting XV.

It is not the first time he has antagonised Ireland. In 2018 he apologised after offensive comments he made about the country emerged online.

It is only the second time that Jones has locked horns with Andy Farrell as the opposition head coach, with the first being the 24-12 win in February’s Six Nations win.

Farrell, who questioned whether his team were “up for” that game in its aftermath, said that a line-up with 10 new faces compared to their last trip to Twickenham could bring about a different result.

13 November: Ireland 32-9 Wales at Aviva Stadium
14 November: England 40-0 Georgia at Twickenham
21 November: England v Ireland, 15:00 GMT at Twickenham
28 November: Wales v England, 16:00 GMT at Parc y Scarlets
29 November: Ireland v Georgia 14:00 GMT at Aviva Stadium
5 & 6 December: Finals weekend – matches TBD
Autumn Nations Cup tables

“I’ve not got a crystal ball. But what I do know is that this is a different group and it’s a different game at the weekend,” he said.

“We’ve got new combinations all over the field that are coming together and learning from these type of experiences all the time.”

Usual captain Johnny Sexton is missing though injury, leaving fly-half Ross Byrne to win his ninth cap and Ireland short on experience.

England’s starting XV contains 725 caps with Ireland totalling only 433 in comparison.

First among second rows?

James Ryan and Maro Itoje
Ryan and Itoje have clashed several times for Ireland and Leinster and England and Saracens respectively

In Sexton’s absence, 24-year-old second row James Ryan captains Ireland for the first time from the start of a match.

He will come up against Maro Itoje, another man who led his country at age-grade level and has been tipped to do the same at senior level and with the British and Irish Lions.

Itoje played down the importance of their personal duel within the context of the match.

“I wouldn’t go chasing an individual,” he told BBC Sport. “For me it’s all about the team. My focus is for England to win on Saturday. It’s not for me to win an individual game within a game against another player.

“It is for England to win and I will do my utmost to make that happen.”

‘I have to book in with him now’

Andy Farrell has his arm round a young Owen Farrell and both are holding a Saracens shirt with Farrell on the back
Andy Farrell was Saracens assistant coach from 2009 to 2012

As a boy, England captain Owen Farrell celebrated with dad Andy during triumphs with league side Wigan Warriors. As a young man, Owen made his Saracens debut in the same team as his father. He made his international debut while Andy was England defence coach.

Now, they find themselves on opposing sides.

Owen says that his father’s promotion to the Ireland head coach role in the wake of the Rugby World Cup has meant their schedules rarely coincide.

“I have to book in with him now!” he said.

“I haven’t seen him for a long time, but we obviously still speak as anyone would do, normally.

“It is a step up but it is something he has always wanted and it’s good he has got this opportunity now.”

Match stats

  • England have won nine of their last 12 Tests against Ireland (L3), including a 24-12 victory when they met earlier this year in the Six Nations.
  • Ireland will be aiming for their 50th Test victory over England; they have already achieved this milestone against two other nations (W65 v Scotland and W55 v Wales).
  • England have won 26 of their last 29 home games (D1,L2), New Zealand and Ireland (both 2018) are the only sides to pick up victories against them in that time.


England: Daly; Joseph, Lawrence, Slade, May; Farrell (capt), Youngs; M Vunipola, George, Sinckler; Itoje, Launchbury; Curry, Underhill, B Vunipola.

Replacements: Dunn, Genge, Stuart, Hill, Earl, Robson, Ford, Malins.

Ireland: Keenan; Earls, Farrell, Aki, Lowe; R Byrne, Gibson-Park; Healy, Kelleher, Porter; Roux, Ryan (capt); Stander, O’Mahony, Doris.

Replacements: Herring, E Byrne, Bealham, Henderson, Connors, Murray, B Burns, Stockdale.

BBC News