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Jelly babies off menu for Vunipola

Billy Vunipola has resisted his Tongan heritage by slimming down on a jelly baby-free diet of salad and vegetables in the hope of becoming an omnipresent member of England's back row.

Vunipola starts Saturday's showdown with France in Paris seven kilograms lighter than the player who entered the hosts' World Cup training camp in June facing a programme of carefully-managed weight loss.

The strength of the Saracens number eight has never been in question, but his stamina was a shortcoming that began to be addressed during this year's RBS 6 Nations when he proved himself capable of finishing matches on the pitch and not in the stands.

Two months spent eating the right food, keeping 'cheat' meals to a minimum and toiling on the training field have honed his physique to deliver big hits and carries for the duration of a game.

The transformation has demanded sacrifices, however, among them avoiding family meals at his parents' house and wolfing down sweets.

"Salad and vegetables are what I've been eating that I wouldn't eat normally. If you ever go to a Tongan dinner you would never see salad on the table. If it is there, it is probably the flowers decorating the table," Vunipola said.

"I usually don't go too often to my mum and dad's house. If I do go over it's between lunchtime and dinner so no one is cooking - I try and keep it safe.

"Mum just did the best for us and we didn't know when we were kids. The dieticians and nutritionists have been a massive help for us. My knowledge in knowing the types of food to eat and portion size have improved.

"There is always temptation, but what has helped me a lot is my knowledge. I never knew bread or pasta was bad for you. Or even jelly babies - I thought they gave you energy!"

Vunipola is still able to satisfy his urge to binge and eat takeaways on occasion, but has learnt that timing is everything.

"You have to save the face-filling until after a big game. You can't have three or four days when you're bingeing and eating badly because it builds up," he said.

"My cheat meals vary from week to week. If I see someone eating pizza and it looks nice, I'll probably have a pizza.

"The same goes for a curry. If we're watching a movie and someone's eating a curry then I'll have a curry. I'm not one to close down the options."

Now weighing 130kgs yet remaining among the heaviest players in the game, the 22-year-old hopes he has struck the right balance between power, agility and stamina.

"I wouldn't say I've enjoyed pre-season, but we got through it. It's helped me improve my physical appearance and in getting around the field," Vunipola said.

"It's about trying to get more out of me - to be more powerful and to play the full 80 minutes to a better level. This is probably the fittest I've ever been.

"Hopefully I will be faster and more explosive, while also able to get over the ball and not be easily moved. Now I'm covering more distance. Hopefully we will see against France if it has helped."

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