Billy Vunipola has warned England to stop their vital pursuit of tries against Italy turning Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations title match into a costly game of sevens.
England must secure an overwhelming bonus-point triumph at the Stadio Olimpico to put themselves in the best possible position to claim the third piece of major silverware of the Eddie Jones era.
The final element of ‘Super Saturday’ unfolds in Paris where the Championship will be in Ireland’s hands – a maximum five-point haul against France is guaranteed to propel them to the title.
For the first time since 2015 and exactly a year after losing the World Cup final to South Africa, England enter the climatic day in hot pursuit of points and Vunipola knows the dangers of becoming too frenzied.
Five years ago the Saracens number eight was present for a thrilling 55-35 victory over France at Twickenham that saw them finish one converted try short of being crowned champions instead of Ireland.
“I remember it vividly because of how loud it was. One thing that I learnt from that game was that we had the intention of trying to put points on the board, but we let it become too frantic,” Vunipola said.
“We didn’t set the foundations of playing in the right areas, making sure first that we wore them down. We allowed it to become like sevens.
“We just let too many points slip past us and that has been the focus this week – how we can play our way in and make sure we do what we need to do to put us in a good position.
“We don’t want the game to become a sevens festival, we want to play good English rugby and that means giving a solid platform for the backs. Hopefully when the game does break up, we’ll put some points on the board.”
England have won all previous 26 meetings with Italy, averaging over 40 points each time, and there is nothing to suggest the Six Nations’ bottom-placed team can avoid another landslide defeat.
Even in Rome the Azzurri are the easiest assignment in the Championship, but Vunipola insists complacency is forbidden under Jones.
“Any team that has Eddie, you are not allowed to get ahead of yourself. Our biggest focus is how we can set a foundation from which we can kick on,” Vunipola said.
“We have got to make sure we play through the English game and that is through our set-piece and make sure that we dominate and that is our intention. After that hopefully we can play and put some points on the board.”
The cancellation of last Sunday’s non-cap fixture against the Barbarians means Vunipola has not played since the end of Saracens’ season on October 4.
“In terms of having a long break between my last game and this game, it hasn’t been a challenge at all. The world is a different place at the moment, so I’ve just been biding my time,” he said.
“It is an ongoing battle trying to keep my weight down and make sure that I am in the best physical shape that I can be when I am called upon to play.
“I’m excited. You could say that I’m a bit of a coiled spring, but I don’t want to talk too much about that, I want to do my talking on the pitch.”