My eight is great: coach Eddie Jones hails Billy Vunipola as bedrock of new England
Man-of-the-match number eight immense in 15-9 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield
England coach Eddie Jones hailed Billy Vunipola as potentially the best number eight in the world after the Saracens back-rower played a major role in the 15-9 win over Scotland.
Lock George Kruis and wing Jack Nowell scored the tries and inside-centre Owen Farrell kicked a conversion and a penalty as an England side captained by hooker Dylan Hartley overcame a disappointing Scotland in their Six Nations opener on Saturday.
Jones, overseeing his first match as England coach, singled out man-of-the-match Vuniopla for special praise.
“I’ve read all the articles about him being too slow to play No 8, so he’s doing a pretty good job as a slow No 8,” said the Australian, England’s first overseas head coach.
“I thought he was outstanding in his carry in and his defensive work.
“He can be the best No 8 in the world. I have no doubt about that.
“He’s a big guy with footwork. He hasn’t used footwork much but he’s finally using it. He’s a fine reader of the game. He knows when to attack off the scrum-half.
“He’s got a good feel for the game, and he’s still a young boy. He’s 22 years old, so imagine when he gets a credit rating how good he’s going to be.”
Pundit Stuart Barnes said Vunipola’s performance was “ominous for the rest of England’s Six Nations opponents”, starting with Italy in Rome this Sunday.
The feeling among England fans in the bars of Edinburgh was that the performance was largely forgettable but, in the circumstances, completely acceptable.
“There is not a Six Nations coach in history who wouldn’t settle for an away win at Murrayfield in their first game and I can assure you Eddie Jones will be very happy with that,” England’s World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward wrote in the Daily Mail.
“You can pick holes in their performance but they needed a significant win to boost confidence after the World Cup and when they train on Monday there will be a spring in their step.”
The contest was no classic but, after the disappointment of England exiting their home World Cup at the pool stage last year, opening a new coaching era with a victory represented a satisfactory first step for Jones.
“You come up here and win the Calcutta Cup, score two tries to nil, and don’t get any injuries, so it’s been a good day at the office,” said the former Japan coach.
“The refereeing at the breakdown was difficult, so it was never going to be a free-flowing game. We had to adjust and I thought our second half performance was commanding.”
Reflecting on his first experience of the Six Nations, Jones added: “It was interesting coming here. We got off the bus and the Scottish were going crazy. There was one little English boy with his beeny [hat] on and for five minutes he yelled, ‘Come on England! Come on England!”
“His voice was being drowned out but he kept going. It was a bit like the team today. We kept going. We kept plugging ahead and in the end we won the game easily. ”
For Scotland, the defeat and the performance came as a backward step from the form that took them to the brink of the last four at the World Cup.
They have not scored a try at home to England since 2004 and have not won a home match against any country in the Six Nations since a 12-8 success against Ireland in February 2013, their worst run of results in the competition at Murrayfield since 1954.
They have also lost every opening game in the competition since 2006 and they head to Cardiff to face Wales this Saturday looking to end a run of eight successive Six Nations defeats home and away.
“It’s frustrating,” said Vern Cotter, who endured a whitewash in his first season as Scotland’s head coach last year.
“We probably weren’t accurate enough. As a team, we can get so much better.”
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw was blunter in his assessment.
“We’ve got to be brutal with ourselves and not make stupid mistakes,” he said. “We’ve got to learn quickly – don’t feel sorry for ourselves.”
Additional reporting Reuters