Rugby Union World Cup: Pack ready to pick up the slack if Billy Vunipola ruled out

England's Billy Vunipola: Big doubt.
England's Billy Vunipola: Big doubt.
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Jamie George insists England have the firepower to cover for Billy Vunipola if his Saracens team-mate is ruled out of Saturday’s World Cup clash with France.

Vunipola failed to appear for the second-half of last weekend’s 39-10 victory over Argentina after suffering an ankle injury that required ongoing treatment on the Tokyo Stadium pitch.

The marauding number eight has undergone a scan and a definitive update is expected some time today, but with a quarter-final place already secured the overwhelming priority is to ensure he is fit for the knockout phase.

If Vunipola fails to pull through then Tom Curry or Mark Wilson will deputise in the back row for the Pool C finale at International Yokohama Stadium, but his absence would still have a significant impact on England’s ball carrying.

George, the Lions hooker, insists it is up to the pack to pick up the slack if he is unavailable.

“Eddie made us aware of it when Billy came off at half-time. He said there will potentially be a little more responsibility for the other guys to step up and want the ball,” George said.

“You work towards the ball all the time anyway. Whenever he sees me and Billy as an option, the scrum-half just passes it to Billy anyway which is probably fair enough!

“If he does or doesn’t play then we’re all aware that we need to get our hands on the ball and impose ourselves physically.”

England will face either Wales or Australia in the quarter-finals depending on the outcome of their clash with France and George insists they have no preference over the identity of their opponents beyond this weekend.

“The point that’s been made to us is that the focus has to be on being as prepared as we can for France. Whatever happens off the back of that is great,” George said.

“It’s great that we’ve managed to qualify, but that’s not what we are thinking about.

“Momentum is a massive thing in a tournament like this so we want to put in another good performance and keep building towards the quarter-finals.

“Everyone is desperate to play in this game. You are always desperate to play in England-France games, they are huge matches.

“Some of my favourite memories in an England shirt have been against France. It’s also another opportunity to represent your country in a World Cup, which as we all know is very rare.”

Jonny May insists Eddie Jones has the vision to deliver England the World Cup – while mutiny threatens to break out in the French camp.

Both teams are unbeaten in Japan but France have got progressively worse during their group campaign, culminating in Sunday’s 23-21 victory over Tonga, and there has been a report that an all-too familiar player-led coup is brewing.

Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal has even released a video responding to a dismal performance against the Pacific Islanders in which he encouraged the players to “take control guys, take the power. Kick the coaches out!”.

In contrast to the revolt brewing in Kumamoto, England’s united squad have plotted a comfortable route through the pool under the guidance of Jones.

“Eddie just knows how to run a programme. He drives hard standards but he’s charismatic,” Leicester wing May said.

“He’s got a personality. He’s got a ruthlessness about him. He’s very different to anyone I’ve worked with him – and that’s Eddie.

“He’s a pretty one-off character, but we all have belief in the programme he’s running because of the experience he has.

“We wouldn’t want anyone else taking us through this journey that we’re on. He’s been there and he’s done it and we buy into everything he wants us to do.”