Billy Vunipola is winning World Cup fitness race

Billy Vunipola looks on during the England training session. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Billy Vunipola looks on during the England training session. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
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Billy Vunipola faces the most important training session of his career on Wednesday as he attempts to prove his fitness for England’s World Cup quarter-final against Australia.

Vunipola is rated “very likely” to be available for the Oita Stadium showdown on Saturday as he recovers from the ankle injury sustained against Argentina.

England will be desperate to field their bulldozing No 8 as they bid to complete a seventh successive victory over Australia under Eddie Jones but only have one full practise session left before the team is announced.

Vunipola was rated doubtful for the last-eight clash but on Tuesday completed running, cycling, wrestling and boxing drills as his recovery took another significant step forward.

“Billy is progressing really well. He’s running well,” defence coach John Mitchell said.

“We are very confident in his progression each day. He’s very likely (to be available). I am very positive about that.”

If Vunipola passes the necessary checks then England are likely to name the same starting XV that routed Argentina 39-10 at Tokyo Stadium to secure passage into the knockout phase.

Tom Curry and Mark Wilson are on standby to deputise at 
No 8 if the Australia collision has arrived a week too early, and there is set to be a change on the bench, where Jack Nowell appears to have lost his battle with injury.

Having recovered from ankle surgery and the removal of his appendix, Nowell’s comeback against the Pumas came at the cost of a hamstring issue that has restricted his training, so Jonathan Joseph is poised to come in.

It is Vunipola’s health that is England’s chief concern, however, even if the 26-year-old’s own assessment of his form before twisting his ankle against Argentina was that “I haven’t been playing the best I could be in the last two games”.

Joe Marler has recovered from the back injury he sustained in the bonus-point win against Argentina and is likely to keep Mako Vunipola out of the starting XV for another week.