Best World Cup plan for Billy Vunipola is to keep on playing, insists Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones has defended his ongoing selection of Billy Vunipola despite the England 
No 8’s escalating workload.

England's Billy Vunipola.

Vunipola is retained in the back row for Thursday’s World Cup clash with the United States at the Kobe Misaki Stadium just four days after Tonga were dispatched 35-3 on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. As the only player to start all four of the summer’s warm-up Tests, the Pool C showdown will extend his run of starts to 11, with him having completed 761 of England’s last 800 minutes.

The powerful 26-year-old is seen as vital to the nation’s hopes of lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy on November 2, but his 2018 was ruined by fracturing his arms on three separate occasions. Vunipola has said he wants to be involved as much as possible after spending the majority of last season in the treatment room, and Jones insists regular action is key to ensuring he is at his bulldozing best.

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“Selection is not a choice of the players, that’s our choice, but he loves playing rugby and he has got another opportunity to play on Thursday,” Jones said. “We want him in his best condition and his best condition is to play rugby. He’s still got another two to three per cent to get to his best condition, as have the others.

“The best way to keep him fit is to play him and he’s an influential player in our team. He’s a rugby player and he wants to play.”

When asked if he was taking a risk, Jones said: “It’s a risk Billy going out and eating Kobe beef! It’s much better he plays rugby than goes out and eats beef.”

There are only five survivors from the team that overcame Tonga in full-back Elliot Daly, fly-half George Ford, prop Joe Sinckler, flanker Tom Curry and Vunipola, while in total 17 players are back-up for the four-day turnaround.

The USA Eagles are ranked 13 in the world and are England’s last opponents until they face Argentina and France in the fixtures that will decide who progresses from Pool C into the quarter-finals.

“The USA are going to be passionate,” said Jones. “We know that they will play for their country hard.

“They also tend to be a coach-driven team so if we can throw them off the scent early in the game they might struggle to get back onto the scent.”

Joe Cokanasiga will provide firepower to England’s back line in the absence of Manu Tuilagi after being picked on the left wing in place of Jonny May, who has been rested.

World Cup referees criticised: Page 25