Vunipola glad to have big brother watching his back

Billy and Mako will make a rare start together against Australia, with the elder sibling ready to show his affection by taking the hits.

OITA, 19 Oct - Billy Vunipola has revealed that his older brother Mako is not one for big shows of affection, but displays his brotherly love by acting as his "shield" on the pitch.

The pair will make a rare start together for England in their World Cup quarter-final against Australia on Saturday after 26-year-old Billy recovered from an ankle injury and Mako, 28, overcame a hamstring problem.

Billy said he enjoys the benefits of lining up with his big brother, who has not played a full game since May and will run out for England for the first time since February. 

"He takes a lot of pressure off me because he's the older brother, so anything that comes towards the Vunipolas, he usually takes the brunt of it and I'm always in the back just kicking back as younger brothers do," said Billy.

"I enjoy having him around, he's a bit like my shield. That's what big brothers do. I thoroughly enjoy playing with him and I'm happy to see him back in the team.

"We have a funny relationship. Deep down we really love each other but he's never saying it to me. I always say it to him but he gets embarrassed and runs away.

"There is definitely that love and respect. We just do our own jobs. We don't have to hang around and tell each other every day or every other minute how much we care for each other, it's just there."

The two brothers tend to play better when in the same line-up, as Billy explained: "It definitely is a thing. It's not something we think about but having my brother there gives me that time. He takes away tension because he is as much of a threat."

Vunipola junior said he wants to deliver an improved performance in the last-eight clash at Oita Stadium, having examined his play in Japan with the help of John Mitchell, the England defence coach.

"At the moment I'm not doing any tough carries," the number eight said. "That's what we talked about, doing the hard yards which I probably haven't been doing. That will hopefully open up space for me to use footwork later on.

"It was probably better coming from me because Mitch was hinting at it anyway. We got to the bottom of it."

Vunipola said part of the reason he had not made as much of a mark as he would have liked is that opposition teams have analysed and targeted him.

"I've not been given as much time and space as I was used to. In the warm-up games, teams are watching and I became a big target against Tonga.

"It was about trying to change where I turn up, whether it was off nine, 10 or 13. I did that against Argentina, which I won't be doing again. I'm not a big fan of the wide channels. It's about doing whatever I can to help the team."

Vunipola suffered a huge hit in the Tonga game, as shown below, which he expected as the son of a former Tonga national rugby team captain: "It's definitely a compliment."

The back-row is keenly aware of the high stakes riding on this game and shocked his team-mates by talking about the ramifications of defeat earlier this week, but he insists it was important to get it out in the open.

"It is always nice to remind yourself, you don't want to live in fairyland, because you get to Sunday and it's done, and that's when the excuses come up. But if you just take it head on, we know what the consequences are.

"We also know if we can keep playing the way we have been playing but just that little bit better, we will be in a good place."

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