Twickenham (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Eddie Jones insisted «the tide will turn» for Billy Vunipola after the Saracens star was ruled out of England’s initial squad for the Six Nations Championship after breaking an arm for the fourth time in two years.
The powerhouse back-row’s latest injury was announced just hours before England coach Jones unveiled his 34-man group, with Vunipola having been a mainstay of the team that went all the way to last year’s World Cup final in Japan before being beaten by South Africa.
But Jones urged Vunipola to take heart from Australian rugby league star Mal Meninga, who enjoyed a fine career despite breaking his arm several times.
«It’s massively disappointing for him but these things happen,» Jones said at Twickenham on Monday.
«There was a rugby league great, Mal Meninga, who broke his arm four times in two years,» the Australian added.
«Post that two years he then played six or seven years, won grand finals and won Test matches for the Kangaroos. The tide will turn for Billy. At the moment it’s tough and probably feels the whole world is against him, but he’ll be all right.»
Vunipola’s injury heaped more misery on the English champions, who on Saturday were told they would be relegated at the end of the season for salary cap breaches.
Saracens provided the backbone of England’s squad in Japan but Jones, who spent time at the London club, was confident the fallout from the scandal would not damage team morale ahead of their Six Nations opener away to France in Paris on February 2.
Asked what advice he would give to a group of Saracens players that includes fly-half Owen Farrell, his captain at the World Cup, Jones replied: «Get ready to play against France and then get ready to play against whoever we play against after France… All of that business, that will get sorted out.»
Number eight Vunipola suffered his most recent injury early in Saracens’ 27-24 victory over French side Racing 92 on Sunday, which kept their hopes alive of a successful European Champions Cup title defence.
The 27-year-old Australia-born forward, capped 51 times for England, has broken his right arm twice and his left once previously.
– ‘Greatest team’ –
Jones has two more years left on his current contract, having been first appointed by England following their humiliating pool-stage exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup.
Asked what his target was now, a typically bullish Jones insisted: «My aim is to make England the greatest rugby team the world has ever seen. That’s my mindset.»
Pressed on whether that could be done between now and 2021, he added: «I want to do it next weekend mate. Why can’t we go out and play fantastic (rugby) football against France?»
But to do that they must overcome an improving France, the 2023 World Cup hosts, who, but for Sebastien Vahaamahina’s reckless red card against Wales, might have made it into the semi-finals in Japan.
«They were very interesting,» said Jones. «I went out and watched them play against Wales. They looked like they were in control of the game until they had a red card and then they lost their way a little bit.
«I thought they had a positive World Cup and they have obviously taken a view that they are building a squad towards the 2023 World Cup.
«They’ve gone for a fair bit of youth, and we know they’ve won the last two Under-20 World Cups so they’ve got talent coming through, but talent doesn’t necessarily transfer to performance in Test-match rugby so we will wait and see.»