Eddie Jones plans to unleash Billy Vunipola on Ireland

Billy Vunipola is being targeted for a return to action against Ireland in their Six Nations tournament climax in Dublin next month.

And before that England’s defence of their RBS 6 Nations title is likely to be reinforced by the return of Mako Vunipola and Anthony Watson against Italy on February 26, with Vunipola back for the March 18 clash with Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

Saturday’s 21-16 win over Wales has created further momentum around England as they bid to become only the sixth team to defend a Grand Slam.

Strengthening England’s hand as they prepare for the visit of Italy to Twickenham in a fortnight is the news Mako Vunipola and Watson should be ready to make their first international appearances of the year. A knee injury has sidelined Vunipola since September while Watson pulled up with a hamstring problem last month.

“Mako has a big chance. He will play for Saracens next weekend and if he gets through that game OK we will bring him into camp for the Italy week,” head coach Eddie Jones said.

“Watson ran at 95% on Friday so we are confident he will be able to play against Italy. It will be great to have him back and we will probably use him. Anthony will probably stay with us (rather than play for Bath) because he has not done much rugby with us.”

Looming on the horizon is Billy Vunipola’s comeback from the knee ligament damage sustained during the autumn and he could be unleashed upon Ireland on March 18 as one of Jones’ ‘finishers’ in what is shaping up to be a title decider.

“Billy might get back for Ireland. He’d be pretty useful off the bench - 150kg,” Jones said.

Jones is set to make changes against Italy and will also experiment with playing style, while adding: “It’s bloody important we beat Italy and we’ll make sure we do.”

Wing Elliot Daly’s late try clinched a dramatic RBS 6 Nations victory over Wales in Cardiff. The first defeat of Eddie Jones’ coaching reign appeared to be looming large as Wales led by two points with four minutes left, but Daly finished off brilliantly following a poor Jonathan Davies clearance, and Owen Farrell’s conversion saw England home 21-16.

Wales looked to have done enough to end England’s Grand Slam hopes as wing Liam Williams scored a first-half try and full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked 11 points.

England led through a Ben Youngs touchdown, while Farrell also booted two penalties, but they had to dig deep into their resources before ultimately prevailing.

Daly, who raced on to Owen Farrell’s beautifully-judged pass to score the decisive 76th-minute try against Wales, could “possibly” be picked at full-back against Italy and James Haskell is close to regaining his starting place, but Alex Lozowski will not be tested.

A feature of England’s record 16-Test winning sequence has been their superior conditioning and even Wales, previously regarded as the fittest team in Europe, could not match the champions for stamina.

Jones has revealed a meeting in Qatar with a Spanish exercise physiologist named Alberto Mendez-Villanueva, who has worked with Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, taught him methods that he used with Japan and that are now benefiting England.

“Wales were the benchmark team in Europe for winning games in the last 20 minutes. Now we’ve beaten them three times in a row so maybe we deserve that title,” Jones said.

“We use a methodology I’ve borrowed from soccer called tactical periodisation. Alberto Mendez-Villanueva has been involved in it quite a bit. Every day we train a specific parameter of the game. We have one day where we have a physical session and do more contacts than in a game.

“Then we have a fast day where we try to train for at least 60 per cent of the session above game speed. We don’t do any extra fitness. It’s all done within those training sessions. Because of that we’ve improved our fitness enormously.”


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