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Saracens' Billy Vunipola driven by fear of failure

Published 15/04/2016

Saracens number eght Billy Vunipola is drive by a fear of failure
Saracens number eght Billy Vunipola is drive by a fear of failure

Billy Vunipola insists the fear of failure is forcing him to complete early-morning gym sessions to build on the standards he set during England's march to the Grand Slam.

Vunipola was named man of the match on three occasions during the RBS 6 Nations and was the squad's most improved player under Eddie Jones, who appointed him as one of three vice-captains and backed him to become the game's outstanding number eight.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall credits the belief shown in Vunipola by the new England regime for his rapid development on the international stage.

"When he wasn't given the confidence of the previous coaches you could see they didn't necessarily get the best out of him," said McCall ahead of Saturday's Aviva Premiership clash with Harlequins at Wembley Stadium.

"Billy wasn't sure if they valued him or rated him. It was a masterstroke to make him vice-captain and say 'you're my man and I'm going to back you, regardless'. I think Billy operates best when he is certain, secure and comfortable."

Knowing that he is setting the benchmark for number eights in Europe, Vunipola has adjusted his attitude to preparation in the hope of fulfilling Jones' prediction that he will become the world's most feared operator in his position.

"You have to try to get a point of difference, try to think in different ways and ask 'is someone else doing what I'm doing?' If they're not, you are going to have that edge over them," Vunipola said.

"The fear of failure is massive in me. No-one likes losing, but I hate it. If I can do anything I can to help myself operate at the highest level, I will.

"Seeing other people being talked about as the guy to oust Billy Vunipola drives me on at the highest level. The hardest part is staying at the top.

"You are always going to have people pushing you and wanting to take your spot and it brings out the best in people.

"Some people crack under the pressure and some use it as fuel to motivate them. That is what I try and do. There is the summer tour to Australia in June and I want to be on it."

Vunipola is tee-total and McCall has revealed it was binge eating rather than binge drinking that once posed the greatest threat to his conditioning.

The 23-year-old back row is aware where his Achilles heel lies and is the first into the Saracens gym.

"It is the little things. Here at the club we talk about the things we don't see," Vunipola said.

"I try to get to the gym by 7-7.15am. It is coming in and knowing you have done it. It is one of those times when you get up and think, 'I can't be bothered to do this' but you know you have to.

"I would rather stay in bed for a few hours - I love my sleep. It is a path you don't really enjoy doing but you know that you have to do it. I guess it's one of those sacrifices you have to make.

"I never realised it as a kid and I got away with it because of my size, but now people are trying to work you out and find ways to exploit your weaknesses.

"Fitness has been one of my weaknesses and I work hard to make it is as strong as possible.

"I make sure I don't eat too much carbs and fats at the start of the week. Later in the week you can start putting those foods in because you have to fuel yourself for the game.

"In the past I got that wrong - I would fuel myself from Monday to Sunday!"

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