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Vunipola eager to make a difference

Billy Vunipola believes his six-week injury absence will prove beneficial in the defining stage of double-chasing Saracens' season.

The London club host Northampton on Sunday in a clash between the Aviva Premiership's top two teams in a likely dress rehearsal for the Twickenham final on May 31.

Saracens are also chasing European glory and face a Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont in two weeks' time.

Vunipola was instrumental in securing the last-four spot when he made his comeback from a Six Nations-ending ankle injury in the 17-15 victory at Ulster on Saturday.

Now the England number eight is restored to full fitness and ready to experience the glory or misery awaiting in the closing stages of a season that ends with the summer tour to New Zealand.

"Physically I feel ready and that that's why the six weeks off was a blessing in disguise," Vunipola said.

"I'd played a lot of games heading into the Ireland game when I was injured.

"When I was injured I said it was one of the worst things in my life because I was ill as well, which meant I dropped around four kilograms.

"But my mum was saying that maybe if I hadn't dropped the four kilograms then maybe I'd have broken my ankle instead of just spraining it.

"The six weeks gave me a chance to rest and that's why I was raring to go against Ulster.

"It could be one hell of a 10 weeks coming up, but it could be the saddest 10 weeks as well."

Vunipola came through a seismic clash at Ravenhill unscathed, profiting from a ferocious spell of conditioning that left him hating the Wattbike training machine.

"Leading up to the game I had two really tough weeks when I did fitness every day which prepared me for that," the 21-year-old said.

"I was constantly doing fitness and I would go as far as to say that was probably the worst two weeks of my life.

"It was like doing pre-season again. I was taking weight off my ankle and a lot of work on the Wattbike, which is not my best friend.

"It takes it out of your legs. You are constantly fighting against the pain barrier. Your legs are telling you to stop because it is painful.

"As soon as you start going you feel like Lance Armstrong and five minutes into it you feel like you are going to break down."

Leaders Saracens are assured of a place in the play-offs, regardless of what unfolds at the Allianz Arena on Sunday, but they understand the value of defeating their closest rivals at this stage of the season.

Last year they were thrashed 27-13 by Saints at the same venue in the semi-finals, a result director of rugby Mark McCall blames on complacency.

"Looking back at that game now, it would appear there was an air of complacency on our side," McCall said.

"There was an expectation that we'd get into the final and I'm not sure why we felt like that given how good Northampton are. That won't be the case this time around."

In Sunday's only other fixture, Newcastle travel to London Irish intent on distancing themselves from bottom-placed Worcester.


From Belfast Telegraph