Billy Vunipola has resolved to ignore his ego by refusing to play the hero in response to the injury misfortune that has blighted his recent career.
Vunipola makes the first start of his latest comeback in Saracens’ Gallagher Premiership clash with Northampton on Saturday after recovering from the broken arm that was re-fractured against South Africa in June.
Knee, hamstring and arm problems limited him to seven club appearances and two outings for England last season and the rampaging number eight insists he must shoulder some of the blame for his repeated visits to the treatment room.
“I got to a stage where I was just trying to be a hero, putting myself in situations where I was vulnerable,” Vunipola said.
Here it is!
“For example, I came back against Wasps last season when maybe it wasn’t the smartest idea to tell the coaches that I was ready.
“It was almost like trying to show them I am tough when I wasn’t, and it’s no one else’s fault but mine.
“I was almost showing a mask that wasn’t me and now I’m just up front with everything. If I’m sore I’m sore and won’t let my ego dictate over what my body’s telling me.”
Vunipola was two games into his return from knee surgery when he broke his arm against the Ospreys in January and having recovered from that setback, he was struck by a hamstring problem.
It continued a wretched sequence of events for the 25-year-old, who was forced out of the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand because of shoulder surgery.
“I had doubt when I broke my arm the first time. If I had been smarter when I went into the tackle I would have been fine but I was trying to impact the game,” Vunipola said.
“It’s tough to express those doubts. I can tell you a lot of people still have injuries and try to hide it. I’ve done that at least 10 times.
“We’re getting to a stage in rugby where competition for places is really hard and you can still have players masking pain, trying to earn that extra contract.
“For me the biggest thing was – do the coaches or the players think that I’m taking them for a ride?
“That’s why I never wanted to say, ‘no’ if I was sore – that was my mindset. I’d have thoughts in my head that people doubt me so I had to go the extra mile,
“Over the last year and a half I was guilty of listening to social media. I got to the stage where I wasn’t doing appearances at Twickenham because I felt embarrassed,” he said.
“If I did, then as soon as I was done, I was in the taxi. I did one when we played Australia in the autumn and I did it and just shot off straight away.
“Now I’m less insecure about myself. Now I’m comfortable knowing that when I’m ready I’ll play and when I’m not I’ll flag it.”
- Press Association