England vary Billy Vunipola's use to devastating effect 1 month ago

England vary Billy Vunipola's use to devastating effect

Billy Vunipola is crucial to England's World Cup hopes.

Eddie Jones' side blasted Australia away in the second half in Oita on Saturday, securing their passage to the final four of the Rugby World Cup and setting up a titanic clash with reigning champions New Zealand in the process. The worries around Vunipola's fitness have all but dissipated, and the powerful backrow looks set to play a vital role in a potential first final since 2007.

But he's as vital to England in presence as in possession.

With the game in the balance just after half time, and Koroibete's try leaving the bare minimum between the sides, England found themselves inside the Australian 22. They set up and worked their way into the middle with a couple of powerful carries, and looked to extend their lead almost immediately after Michael Cheika's men had pulled themselves back into the contest.

They laid a trap. The Wallabies bit.

As Ben Youngs passes out of the ruck, Owen Farrell receives it, with Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler outside him in that order. The Australians are highlighted above by number, loosehead Scott Sio, lock Rory Arnold and hooker Tolu Latu all ready for the English attack if they keep it tight.

They do keep it tight. Itoje begins to slip to Farrell's right, a clever bit of movement that attracts Scott Sio, he feels he can't leave the Englishman on that side, despite plenty of cover arriving from the ruck. As a result, Arnold begins to pressure Farrell and rush the pass, while Latu is left with a (as he sees it) simple choice.

The pass is coming, and it's going to Vunipola. Right?

Wrong.

When Latu bites in, the pass is coming. He's perfectly set, or so he believes, to hit Vunipola early and dominate him in the tackle. But Farrell has skipped Vunipola with a bullet of a pass, and Sinckler is already moving into the gap created by Latu's decision to cover Vunipola. Christian Lealiifano is too slow to realise what's happening, and as a result the gap stays the same rather than the outhalf shifting across to cover.

Arnold and Latu complete their hits on Farrell and Vunipola respectively, but both are ultimately useless. Lealiifano scrambles to catch Sinckler but he's far too late, and even Kurtley Beale covering across in the backfield has been anticipating a much narrower move. As a result, it's a straightforward run-in for Sinckler and a much-needed 7-pointer for England at a time when Australia were just back in the game.

Ireland used a similar tactic against Scotland in Murrayfield during the 6 Nations, where they lay Johnny Sexton out like a sacrificial lamb to be hit as Jacob Stockdale was sprung through the gap. Billy Vunipola is already a potent threat with ball in hand, but England have now made him one in attack without actually carrying the ball. It's clever, and you can expect he New Zealand line to be much more on their toes when they face Jones' side on Saturday.