‘Billy Vunipola is as fit as I have seen him for a long time’


ark McCall expects Billy Vunipola to “hit the ground running” when the Premiership gets underway on Friday after a productive preseason with Saracens that has seen him get fit and lead by example.

Vunipola was left out of Warren Gatland’s Lions squad and rested by Eddie Jones with England, so had a break over the summer before joining Sarries’ preseason programme. Director of rugby McCall says the 28-year-old is in the best shape “for a long time”.

“He has got the bit between his teeth and he is as fit as I have seen him for a long time,” said McCall. “His leadership during the course of the pre-season when other senior players have not been here has been wonderful so we are looking forward to seeing him get stuck in.

“He is exactly the weight we want him to be, he has trained really hard and not had any hiccups in pre-season. He can hit the ground running now.”

McCall said he had not spoken to Vunipola about missing out on the Lions for some time.

“I am not sure he definitely is [over missing Lions],” he said. “I haven’t talked to him a lot about it over the past couple of months. I know he was hugely disappointed not to go and sometimes those things take time to get over.”

Vunipola’s experience will be vital for Saracens when the season resumes. They are without their five Lions (Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly) for some weeks yet, and are missing Max Malins, Alex Goode (hamstring), Sean Maitland and Duncan Taylor through injury. Vincent Koch is on Springbok duty.

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“We’re happy with our squad and Friday night’s going to be a good test of that,” said McCall.

“We have a chunk of players who aren’t going to play on Friday night, really experienced players. But there’s a different way of looking at that, and that’s the opportunity it gives to a lot of our younger players who have been developing well for the last couple of seasons.

“We have massive belief in those younger players — Dom Morris, Rotimi Segun, Ralph Adams-Hale, Elliott Obatoyinbo, Ben Harris, Sean Reffell, Andy Christie – we’re really excited to see them play Friday night.”

The return of Lions players will be judged on a case-by-case basis, with the amount they played last season and the amount they played on the tour taken into account.

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