With most of the build up focusing on the timing of Manu Tuilangi’s involvement, those in the know have put the responsibility on the shoulders of Billy Vunipola. It has been stated that the Wales back row and its much vaunted chop tackle will lay the gauntlet for Vunipola and stop him at source. The beauty of England v Wales is generally there is very little you can look to for an indication of the potential outcome. It normally comes down to the old adage of 'who wants it more?'
Here we give you a quick friday afternoon snapshot of Vunipola’s performances v Wales in both last years 6 Nations and the RWC as well as an average in this years 6 Nations. As you can see, Wales may not have been as effective vs Vunipola as perception would have you believe. We have to be careful not to get sucked into what the media tell us or even sometimes what our own initial thoughts indicate. Obviously there is no doubt that as a team England felt dominated by Wales in the RWC but as for Vunipola his numbers in the RWC aligned with the winning performance in last years 6 Nations.
The major change appears to be his freedom to carry and it certainly appears to be Eddie Jones’ tactic, along with talking him up at every opportunity. This certainly appears to be working with Man of the Match performances being delivered twice in this years tournament.
However, are his performances this year that different to what he has delivered against Wales in the past? Statistically it would appear not, meaning it may come down to the performance of others rather then resting solely on the shoulders of Vunipola as the media have suggested. The current England side without Tuilagi lacks the carry power in the backline it has possessed in previous years, certainly when compared to the physicality at the disposal of Wales. This is not a bad thing but means that Vunipola is one of the only devastatingly physical runners in the team.
This weekend the two No8’s on display are utilised by their respective teams in very different ways. Talupe Faletau plays a more workmanlike role for Wales, but always peppers his performance with a moment of magic, whether it be an offload or a burst from the base to score. In Sam Warbuton and Faletau Wales have the ability to play a side on the floor, again England’s breakdown may prove its undoing. Admittedly, we may have been waiting for this area to creak in every match, yet so far it has not occurred.