Vunipolas get England workout
NEWS: England forwards Billy and Mako Vunipola both enjoyed plenty of game time as title-holders Saracens won 35-27 away to Newcastle in the Premiership on Sunday.
Billy, a powerhouse No.8, started at Kingston Park after recovering from knee ligament damage suffered in November three weeks ahead of schedule.
He played all but the last eight minutes against Newcastle and could now 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.
Vunipola's elder brother Mako, a prop, also played 72 minutes against Newcastle after being released by England in a bid to gain more match time having come off the bench midway through the second half of last weekend's 36-15 win over Italy at Twickenham.
As for the game itself, uncapped flyhalf Alex Lozowski showed just why he's regarded as a rising star by scoring 20 points including two of English and European champions Sarries' five tries.
Lozowski, the son of former Test centre Rob Lozowski, and the Vunipola brothers were all included in a 30-man England training squad for the Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland.
After the match Billy Vunipola said he felt ready to return to international duty if selected by England coach Eddie Jones as the team go in search of a record-equalling 18th successive win by a major rugby union nation.
"I talked to Eddie this week and I said to him that, if I came through the game and I feel okay, we can talk but I'd love to be back in the mix," Billy Vunipola said.
Vunipola, who had previously thanked Saracens' medical staff for his recovery, reckoned his religious faith had been more use to him in returning to full fitness than the cryotherapy chamber now often used in the treatment of injuries.
"I don't really believe in that stuff," he said.
"I think I went in the cryo chamber once, maybe twice, because I had to. I just tried to stay clear and let God do his thing."
Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall was pleased by the form of both brothers, with Billy staying on the field longer than planned at his own request.
"I thought he was pretty good," McCall said. "He said he felt good at half-time and wanted a bit more and so we gave him a bit more."
The result left London club Saracens in third place, just a point adrift of second-placed Exeter and six shy of leaders Wasps.
Sunday's other match saw second-bottom Worcester take a significant step towards Premiership survival after a 41-24 win at home to basement club Bristol.
Only one team will be relegated and it increasingly looks like that will be Bristol, who were only promoted last season.
Bristol are now seven points adrift of Worcester with three of their remaining five league games against the current top three.
"We are not going to give in," insisted Bristol coach Mark Tainton. "We have made it more difficult for ourselves going forward, but no-one gave us a chance to beat Bath last week, and we turned them over."
Meanwhile mystery surrounds the future of Gloucester coach Laurie Fisher.
After Saturday's agonising 30-27 loss at home to Harlequins, where Gloucester somehow squandered a 12-point lead in the closing nine minutes, Fisher tweeted: "Unbelievable capitulation. Clearly not good enough. My responsibility. Time to make room for someone else."
However, it was not immediately clear whether the Australian had indeed left Kingsholm, with a club spokesman saying: "Gloucester Rugby are aware of the tweet but are not in a position to comment further at this time."
Forwards: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Jamie George (Saracens), Teimana Harrison (Northampton Saints), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), James Haskell (Wasps), Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Mike Williams (Leicester Tigers), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints).
Backs: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Danny Care (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath Rugby), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Alex Lozowski (Saracens), Jonny May (Gloucester, Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Marland Yarde (Harlequins), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).