Billy Vunipola used psychologist to reach England summit again

Billy Vunipola turned to daily sessions with a psychologist to be told the home truths he needed to hear to reignite his England career.

Vunipola will start Saturday’s series decider against Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground after his 16-month spell in international exile ended in Perth two weeks earlier.

A combination of injuries to No 8 rivals Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds and his own return to form for Saracens upon their return to the Premiership propelled him back into Eddie Jones’s squad.

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But a year ago his Test prospects were looking bleak when he met with Jones in a pub in St Albans and was told he needed to rediscover his mojo, a statement that was initially rejected by the powerful back row of Tongan heritage.

Billy Vunipola: England star has earned his place back in Eddie Jones’s squad. (Picture: Getty Images)Billy Vunipola: England star has earned his place back in Eddie Jones’s squad. (Picture: Getty Images)
Billy Vunipola: England star has earned his place back in Eddie Jones’s squad. (Picture: Getty Images)

“I disagreed with Eddie, but looking back now he was right. That’s where this kind of all started. And I’m glad it did,” Vunipola said.

“I’ve never really believed in psychologists before but after talking to Eddie I felt like I needed someone to tell me the honest truth. And I found someone who was class.

“We talked nearly every day for six or seven months. One of our first conversations was me complaining about being relegated and he basically just said, ‘what can you do about it? ‘ I said, ‘nothing’. And he said, ‘what can you do about your rugby’, and I was like, ‘everything’.

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“And that was the start of my journey. I still talk with him here and there. He was a massive help. It had to be the right person and from the start we hit it off. I thought he was class.

“I’ll give you an analogy. He said that I climbed up the mountain, I was really hungry to get to where I wanted to get to. And I got to where I wanted to get to. And now everyone’s still climbing and I’m just here.

“He basically said if you stop now, you will regret it for the rest of your life. And if you carry on then who knows what could happen? When he put it in those words, I was ready to throw it all in with him.”

Extra fitness sessions, better dietary choices, a commitment to recovery, more sleep and a determination to enjoy his rugby once again have helped Vunipola back to the summit.

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“It’s also more of a conscious thing to think about how I want to perform and what I want to do in a game,” Vunipola said.

“It’s not just turning up and hoping it happens, which I got away with for a lot of years. This little snag helped me to find a better version of myself.

“My (Christian) faith is massive too. I think sometimes I rely on it too much not to do any work. I forgot to do the work bit. I was blessed with the gift but I’ve got to work on it.

“And that’s where this guy came in. I needed to roll my sleeves up and work again.”

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Former rugby league star Jon Clarke is England’s head of strength and conditioning, responsible for turning players’ strengths into “super strengths”.

“Ellis Genge’s acceleration and speed for a front rower is absurd. He’s 118kg and with his acceleration he can beat a lot of people,” Clarke said.

“People always ask ‘what is this player’s or that player’s weakness?’. Well we do work on those, but we also try to turn their strengths into super strengths.”

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