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Nathan Hughes and Billy Vunipola could become England team-mates - George Smith

Wrecking-ball flankers Nathan Hughes and Billy Vunipola could thrive in the same England back-row, according to Wasps loose-forward George Smith.

Former Australia openside flanker Smith will partner Hughes in Wasps' European Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens in Reading on Saturday.

Bullish ball-carrying loose-forwards Hughes and Vunipola will collide with European glory on the line this weekend, but could ultimately become England team-mates in the fullness of time.

And Smith insists the pair could forge a devastating combination, despite their similar strengths.

"Definitely there is scope for them to play together in the same England back-row," said Smith.

"All back-rowers have to have the ability to play all three of the positions, you don't want to be one-dimensional in the way you play the game.

"You don't want a number eight just to have the specific skills for that position, he has to have the ability to switch between six and seven as well.

"You've got to be able to jump in the lineout, link up with the backs.

"It's a non-negotiable for back-rowers I think, that's just my personal view."

Fiji-born Hughes will qualify for England on residency terms in June, but too late to be eligible for the three-Test tour of Australia this summer.

Smith expects his Wasps team-mate to be pushing hard for Test honours by the time the autumn internationals swing around, however.

Before all that, though, Smith believes Billy Vunipola and Hughes will relish their head-to-head confrontation this weekend.

"Nathan's an exceptional player and people have seen him display his abilities over the past couple of seasons," said Smith.

"I knew of Nathan last season and to see how he has developed and taken to his work has been fantastic.

"Knowing him and knowing how he works, I believe he's a very dangerous player out there.

"I hope Nathan will see it as a personal battle with Billy. I'm only throwing it out there but I'm sure Billy would be the same.

"Everyone wants to play better than their opposite number and that's the same for me.

"You want to get one up on the opposition player and that's just the nature of how it is.

"Everyone sees that Nathan is Test calibre, he dominates when he carries the ball.

"There's no doubt he has the ability to play at that level. Give him the opportunity and he'll take it.

"He's an exceptional player, dynamic in the way he carries the ball, he tackles well, he gets you over the advantage line."

Smith continues to excel in rugby's top echelons despite his advancing years, and at 35 has a two-year contract in place to return to Suntory Sungoliath in Japan next season.

While Smith acted as a coaching consultant for England during the Six Nations under his former Australia boss Eddie Jones, he will not reprise the role on this summer's tour of his homeland.

"Yes I will be in Australia, visiting family as I've been away for a couple of years, but no I won't be assisting the English team," said Smith.

"I think they'd take my passport off me if I did!

"It was fantastic to work with the England squad during the Six Nations.

"I think it was a big leap of faith from Eddie to allow me to do that, and I really enjoyed the experience.

"The English players are fantastic to work with.

"They had a drive to learn new things and pick my brain in why I do things out there on the field, and it was a privilege to be involved in the inner sanctum of an international set-up."


From Belfast Telegraph