Timely Vunipola return boosts England
INJURY UPDATE: Billy Vunipola is set to return from injury for Saracens earlier than expected, which could also benefit England's bid to win successive Grand Slams.
The Saracens No.8 has recovered from knee ligament damage suffered in November three weeks ahead of schedule and has been drafted straight into the starting XV for the English and European champions' Premiership clash away to Newcastle on Sunday.
If the back-row forward comes through the match at Kingston Park unscathed, he could be in line to feature in England's Six Nations match against Scotland at Twickenham on March 11 and a possible title-decider against Ireland in Dublin the following week.
"I'm really excited to be back out there this weekend. I'm feeling refreshed, the body feels great and I'm ready for what will be a really tough game up in Newcastle," Vunipola said.
Vunipola's elder brother Mako has also been included in Saracens' pack after being released by England in a bid to gain more match time on a weekend where there are no Six Nations fixtures.
Mako only recently returned from a knee injury of his own and, following a second-half replacement appearance in England's 36-15 win over Italy last weekend, team management felt the prop could do with more on-field time ahead of the Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland.
Anthony Watson, who could also feature for England in the final two rounds of the Six Nations, has been selected on the left wing Bath for their Premiership match against Wasps this weekend in his first appearance since suffering a hamstring problem in late January.
Billy Vunipola won the last of his 32 England caps against Argentina in November.
Since then, England have extended their winning streak to 17 Tests in a row - just one shy of New Zealand's leading-nation record of 18 in a row.
Nathan Hughes has deputised at No.8 but England have undoubtedly missed the sheer ball-carrying power of the 24-year-old Billy Vunipola.
Having him fit and raring to go at a time when many loose forwards are starting to feel the effects of a tough campaign, would be a boost as Eddie Jones, the England coach, acknowledged last Friday.
"It's pretty positive," said Jones. "We're working with Saracens to see when he's going to be available to play.
"We haven't written off him playing in the Six Nations. He's looking fit," the Australian added.