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Ben Youngs underlines Billy Vunipola's importance as number eight nears return

Ben Youngs insists England will welcome back the best number eight in the world should Billy Vunipola prove his fitness when Saracens face Newcastle on Sunday.

Vunipola makes an earlier-than-expected return after three months out with a knee injury when the double-winners visit Kingston Park, raising the prospect that he will be available to play Scotland six days later.

The 24-year-old was expected to miss the entire RBS 6 Nations but England could now unleash their most devastating ball-carrier in a match that might see the champions retain their title with a round to spare.

It is a development Youngs believes will cause unease among Scottish and Irish ranks.

"Billy adds confidence to the side because he is absolutely world-class," the Leicester scrum-half said.

"It probably puts a dent in the opposition when they see his name on the team sheet. They'd be slightly annoyed that he's come back sooner than they thought.

"I've played with Bill and unfortunately I have to play against him twice a year, but I think on his day he is the best number eight in the world."

England have sorely missed their primary source of momentum since he was carried from the pitch on a stretcher against Argentina last autumn, ligament damage robbing them of a battering ram capable of making yards from a standing start.

Nathan Hughes has deputised in his absence but the Wasps rookie has not had the same impact and Vunipola is sure to be involved at Twickenham on March 11 if he comes through the Aviva Premiership showdown at Newcastle.

"I don't think other players can do what Billy does," Youngs said.

"Number eights can suck in players, but not many can carry two, three defenders and physically impose himself from minute one until 80.

"He's not a guy who waits for the game to come to him, he is just absolutely on it.

"So many times in tight games it's just about winning the gain line and it can become a bit of an arm wrestle when you get caught in that middle third.

"Billy has that unbelievable raw strength to make three or four yards when he's got no right to do so.

"We're very fortunate to have him and Nathan. Nathan has really grown and in each game you can see he has found his home at Test rugby, but Billy is a world-class operator."

News of Vunipola's imminent return has helped divert attention away from the worst display of the Eddie Jones era, a 36-15 victory over Italy that sparked debate throughout the game.

The Azzurri's controversial no-ruck tactics provoked outrage from Jones, who has called for World Rugby to revise its laws as a result, but the scheming ingenuity of Italy coach Conor O'Shea and his assistants has otherwise been widely praised.

A meeting was held between senior players and coaches on Monday night during which the events at Twickenham were analysed, before it was resolved to move swiftly on to Scotland's visit.

"If Scotland come with a similar tactic, then yes we have a plan. We know what we need to do in that scenario," Youngs said.

"Obviously we don't want to give away our secrets, but if it happens again we'll be in a great position to combat it. We are equipped to know what to do now."

England and Scotland resume the oldest rivalry in international rugby knowing the Scots' last victory at Twickenham was in 1983.

None of Jones' squad were alive 34 years ago, while Youngs' father Nick was on the bench that day, but Scotland are better equipped to end their London drought than at any time in recent memory having dispatched Ireland and Wales.

"I don't think you need too much more incentive than the fact that it is England v Scotland," Youngs said.

"I can't say there is too much love between the two nations and there certainly isn't in this side either. The rivalry has been huge and I don't think that has changed. When you play Scotland and Wales you get that bit of edge around training."


From Belfast Telegraph