Billy Vunipola has refused to back down over an Instagram post that sided with Wallaby full-back, Israel Folau, who has been sacked by the Australian union for his homophobic view that "hell awaits" gay people.

The Saracens' No8 was given a formal warning in April by the RFU and reprimanded by his club for 'liking' Folau's post and Vunipola's subsequent comments made that people should "live lives how God intended". Speaking for the first time at length about the furore, Vunipola insisted that he "had made his position clear", but pledged not to comment further on such matters so as not "to become a distraction" to England's World Cup campaign.

Israel Folau and Billy Vunipola. Photos / Photosport
Israel Folau and Billy Vunipola. Photos / Photosport

"I want it to be known where I stand. And I'm not going to expand or take a step back which is not being stubborn but me not wanting the [other] players to be affected by it as it is not fair on them," said Vunipola in Bristol where England are based this week before heading to Treviso to continue their preparations. "I have made my position clear and I don't want it to be a distraction.

"If I was a boxer and it was just affecting me, I would sit here and answer questions. But it doesn't just affect me. It affects players and coaching staff because they will be asked their opinions on it. I don't want to put them under the cosh. It is firmly what I put out there and it is firmly on me."


Vunipola has not taken down the post and intends to carry on using social media as he deems it "a positive tool to use" in giving insights about how players behave behind the scenes. Here he cites the example of first-five George Ford not having milk or sugar in his tea, a rather less inflammatory reveal than his reference to Folau's stance. There are no edicts in place about the squad's use of social media.

"There is no restriction on it, especially from the RFU or anyone else although we have [club and country] talked about it at length," said Vunipola. "We came to the conclusion that this issue, which people say I brought on myself, is better off left alone. I don't want this carrying over [after today] and someone else have to answer questions on it."

Vunipola was on firmer footing when stating his utmost commitment to England winning the World Cup in Japan. The 26-year-old, who was part of the deflating 2015 campaign, believes that being bold in aspiration is a key part of the process.

"Yes, I do," said Vunipola, an essential cog in England's plans. "If you're consciously talking about it then you're consciously and unconsciously thinking about it. It is a funny thing to say, isn't it? It's almost a bit [of a] cringe to say: 'Yeah we're going to win this.' It's like a boxer saying he's going to knock someone out and then gets knocked out, which is what everyone wants to happen. People want us to be knocked out anyway because we are England – so we might as well put it out there anyway.

"Eddie has always said that this was a four-year cycle. He wants to win the World Cup, that was his goal. That is my goal too – to win the World Cup. There's no point winning Champions' Cups, Six Nations, Premierships if you can't actually do it when the biggest fish of all is on the line."

Vunipola, part of one of the most diverse England rugby squad ever to head towards a World Cup, was quite taken by the impact of the cricket team's success on Sunday.

"It definitely whets the appetite," said Vunipola. "It has always been our goal to bring England together as a community to support a successful team. Definitely [it was a multicultural effort]. You are talking to the right person in terms of the diversity we have in our team. It does make you feel you represent the whole of England, not just each other. We have people from different walks of life and that is what makes this team pretty cool."

One of the many fall-outs from the 2015 World Cup was Vunipola's regret that he felt the squad never felt as close-knit as it did in the club environment, that the other players didn't feel like "mates".


"That's something we are definitely working on now and have a lot of growth to make," said Vunipola. "It's something we have kind of always been lacking with England. It is unique to England that everyone knows what you get paid and that can cause differences. We are trying to build bridges where we can be brutally honest with each other."

Vunipola was asked what it would be like if he were to be selected for England's opening World Cup game against Tonga in Sapporo on September 22. Vunipola, whose parents are from Tonga, his father a former international, his mother a Methodist minister now based in High Wycombe, returned to the land of his forebearers last month to get married.

"It would be the first time against Tonga which would be cool, very emotional," said Vunipola who had invited 130 people to his wedding to Simmone in Likualofa only for 280 to turn up.

"It was awesome but stressful. In Tongan culture, it is rude not to invite someone if they make the effort to turn up and give you gifts. They're not on Facebook or anything so they turn up to represent their villages. There was a lot of traditional stuff, the giving of mats [for example]. I'm glad it happened the way it did."