Billy Vunipola admits he has been “playing rubbish” and blames the collapse in form that has endangered his England place on being a “coward” due to fatigue.
Vunipola has been a shadow of the bulldozing number eight famed for powering Eddie Jones’ team onto the front foot, making only 10 metres in three carries in the Guinness Six Nations opener against Scotland.
Against Italy a week later he produced eight carries for 31 metres – also a poor return by his standards – and in both games he endured the indignity of being replaced before the final quarter.
Of all relegated Saracens’ players to have suffered from the lack of club matches in the build-up to the Six Nations, Vunipola has felt the inactivity most, but the 28-year-old is determined to reverse the slide against Wales on Saturday.
“I’ve just been playing rubbish, I can’t lie. I need to turn up this weekend and that’s what I’m planning on doing,” Vunipola said.
“It’s about helping me motivate myself to help the team. And to help the team I need to be the player that I know I can be.
“I know I haven’t been that player and it’s annoying me more than anyone else. I’m ready for Wales. I haven’t been myself and I need to go out there and show what I can do.
“There have been a lot of questions asked about my place within the team. That’s not always a bad thing because sometimes it can make or break a player and I want to show that I’m worth my place within the squad.
“I just haven’t played well at all. And I could play a hundred more games at the level I am playing at now and I’d still be rubbish, so it’s not about playing yourself into form.
“At the moment, I guess because of my lack of game time, I am trying to put myself in positions where I don’t have to run as much, so that I still get the ball and have the same effect.
“There’s a great NFL coach (Vince Lombardi) who said that fatigue makes a coward out of everyone and I guess I’ve been a bit of a coward in the last two weeks because I’ve been hiding from being fatigued.”
To illustrate the extent of his slump Vunipola has been sent encouraging texts by his parents, while at home the birth of his first child in November has created unexpected challenges.
“You know you’re playing badly when your mum and dad are the only ones texting you, saying they love you and we are here to support you!” he said.
“Three weeks ago was the first time that I left my wife and kid. It was the first time that that ever happened and I guess I never truly left that person behind – I just turned up to camp and I was still the person I was at home.
“It sounds weird, but you need to detach yourself from your wife a bit to focus wholeheartedly on what is going on here.”
Jones has been one of Vunipola’s biggest supporters and Vunipola wants to repay England’s head coach.
“At the moment Eddie probably thinks someone has cloned me and the person he thought he had in his team is at home and the person that isn’t the person he thinks I am is here,” Vunipola said.
“Eddie deserves a performance off us as a group of players and I am no different. That’s something I am 100 per cent sure of.”