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Saracens boss McCall hails 'incredible effort' as Billy Vunipola eyes comeback

Saracens boss Mark McCall has saluted "an incredible effort from all concerned" as England star Billy Vunipola prepares to make his comeback.

The powerful number eight, who suffered a knee injury last November and has not played since, returns to action three weeks ahead of schedule when Saracens tackle Kingston Park hosts Newcastle on Sunday.

And if he emerges unscathed, then a recall appears likely for title-chasing England's RBS 6 Nations appointment with Scotland at Twickenham next weekend.

"It has been an incredible effort from all concerned," Saracens rugby director McCall said.

"Our medical team, strength and conditioning team and Billy should take a lot of credit for their tireless work.

"Billy is coming back three weeks ahead of schedule, which is some feat, and it is another example of the benefits of having a joined-up rugby and medical department."

Vunipola, whose brother and fellow England international Mako also features in the north-east, will be part of a Saracens team looking to record a 17th successive victory over Newcastle in all competitions.

But McCall added: "Kingston Park is always one of the toughest places to visit in the Premiership, and the Falcons are a well-coached side with some very dangerous players.

"We are well aware of how tough a challenge Sunday will be."

Saracens will remain in the top four whatever happens this weekend, yet Newcastle are enjoying an impressive season and will relish another opportunity to enhance their credentials as possible European Champions Cup qualifiers for next season.

"Saracens play a very different style of rugby to Exeter (Newcastle's conquerors last Saturday), but what they both do is they have a very clear game-plan which they are adept at executing right to the Nth degree," Newcastle rugby director Dean Richards said.

"That is going to be the key for us this weekend, understanding exactly what they are about, how they play, what their game-plan is and then executing our own game-plan equally as well as they do.

"If we can do that, then we stand a really good chance of coming away with the win."

England international Chris Pennell, meanwhile, wants Worcester to embrace and relish Sunday's critical Premiership clash against fellow strugglers Bristol.

The Warriors are two points above bottom club Bristol with six games left, but the west country outfit arrive at Sixways fresh from beating Premiership title play-off contenders Bath last weekend.

"Games like this are why we play the game," Worcester full-back Pennell said.

"We've got to embrace it and relish it. We are going to go in confident with a job to do, and we won't hide away from the scale of the situation.

"It is a huge game, and everyone wants to play in big games, so we are looking forward to the challenge and laying a marker down at home."

Gavin Henson, who inspired the victory over Bath, again features at fly-half, and Bristol hooker Marc Jones added: "Gavin is key for us.

"He gives us a platform and puts us in good positions, but not only that, his defence is exceptional, so teams aren't going to cut through us in the 10 channel.

"He is a good person to have on the field and is a real calming influence. He never gets flustered, which is what we have needed in the last few weeks."


From Belfast Telegraph