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Sibling rivalry drove Billy Vunipola to regain his England shirt in time to face Scotland, his brother and Red Rose team-mate Mako claims.
Barnstorming No.8 Billy was due to miss the entire Six Nations after undergoing knee surgery in November. But he made a shock return to the Saracens team last week and now finds himself back in English white with two rounds of the championship still to go.
The Vunipola brothers were sidelined at much the same time with knee injuries.
Billy’s was the more serious, yet the sight of prop Mako returning first lit a fire inside him.
“It definitely seemed to me he was getting a bit annoyed I was running before he started,” said Mako. “I think he was jealous I was out on the field before him. That spurred him on to get back.
“If either of us goes down, the other will say, ‘Get back up’. I’m not saying we’re the toughest men ever, it’s more that neither of us wants to show weakness to the other.”
Such toughness was forged in a rugby household where being soft was not an option – not with dad Fe’ao, a former captain of Tonga.
“He wouldn’t accept that we were hurt in any game,” said Mako. “If we went down with a dead leg or something he wouldn’t say it was a real injury.
“It comes from our grandad. He always made a joke that if we broke a leg he would just buy a new one. That’s kind of the mindset we have.”
Having both bruise brothers available for the first time in five matches is a massive boost to an England team showing signs of feeling the pressure.
Eighty minutes from equalling New Zealand’s world record 18-win streak, boss Eddie Jones has cancelled all but the team announcement part of his Thursday media duties.
England will not say why, prompting speculation he is unhappy at the recent turn of events.
Shown up by Italy’s ruckless tactics last time out and taking half the game to work them out, England then left a whiteboard out in front of photographers which appeared to give away their Calcutta Cup selection 48 hours early.
Ireland star Gordon D’Arcy said: “England look a team under ever increasing strain. They look a shadow of the team that dominated 2016. Every game on a winning streak gets a team closer to a loss because the pressure increases.
“They are playing conservative rugby, perhaps without realising it. Pressure can do that because you don’t want to be the guy to let the team down.”
Will England beat Scotland for an 18th straight win?
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