Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Vunipola to shine in Jones' regime

Billy Vunipola was the stand-out in England's win over Scotland. Photo / Getty
Billy Vunipola was the stand-out in England's win over Scotland. Photo / Getty

At first glance the arrival of Eddie Jones has done little to alter England's test rugby game.

But let's be fair. Jones has only been in the job for two seconds and that meant his choices were restricted in selection and playing methods when England ventured to Murrayfield for the opening round of the Six Nations.

Scotland voiced their optimism but England scored the only two tries in the untidy 15-9 victory to start their campaign and will carry an encouraging attitude to the next stage of the competition.

Hints of excellence for Scotland came from fullback Stuart Hogg but leading from the rear rarely wins games. Loosies Dave Denton and John Hardie impressed too but England's No 8 Billy Vunipola was the standout.

His influence was a consistent benefit for England as the visitors ploughed rather than finessed their way to victory.

Vunipola has rough edges to his game when his tactical awareness and fitness seem to go on the blink but he makes up for that with raw power and brutality which get England across the precious advantage line.

He had lapses at Murrayfield as everyone did in this first round but he was in the midst of most of the action and still churning through his work on both attack and defence at the end of the match. That alone will have delighted Jones.

If Vunipola can raise his fitness a tad, he has the No 8 game to challenge any in the game. He is just 23 and has played 21 tests so is only dipping his toes in the international rugby trough.

At 1.88m and 126kgs, he's got the frame to make dents in any opposition and needs to weld more experience into his repertoire. Like his coach, Vunipola was born in Australia but is being primed to be a key plank in England's recovery plans after the World Cup.

All Black No 8 Kieran Read and French No 8 Louis Picamoles led the charge of heavyweight No 8's at the World Cup while the Wallabies' David Pocock brought a different mix of vital talent to the tournament.

They were the standouts with Duane Vermeulen, Toby Faletau and Jamie Heaslip in the next rung.

Vunipola had a few injury issues and job-shared tournament work with Ben Morgan but on the evidence of today, has put a marker down in his bid to be a first choice for Jones.

- NZ Herald

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