Billy Vunipola believes England are capable of dealing with the favourites tag going into the Guinness Six Nations as they look to mount a successful title defence.
The No.8 has been part of three Championship-winning sides since making his England debut in 2013, playing all five matches in the 2016 triumph, and is set to make up a key part of Eddie Jones’ pack once more this year.
Having regularly competed for honours at international level and with club side Saracens, the 28-year-old is well equipped to deal with high expectations and has backed his teammates to deal with the pressure.
“We’ve got a target over our heads and everyone is trying to build us up as favourites, which is fine,” he told The Guardian.
“We’ve got to be ready for what teams are going to bring and that’s what we’re preparing to do. I think the biggest thing is, don’t get bored of winning.”
Vunipola is among an array of home nations players who are hoping to put themselves in contention for a spot in this summer’s British & Irish Lions squad through their performances in the Championship.
Having been forced to withdraw from the 2017 tour through injury prior to making an appearance, the back-rower is keen to force his way into Warren Gatland’s plans for the trip to South Africa and knows the next eight weeks could have a big say in selection.
“A lot of people are afraid of saying ‘I want to go on the Lions tour’,” he said. “But that’s one of my goals, throughout this Guinness Six Nations, to put myself in that shop window and show that I can perform at the highest level.
“Obviously the game (against Scotland) next week is massive but everyone wants to be on that Lions tour and we’re no different. We’ve got to be ready and prepared to bulldoze teams and not just sit back.”
Covid-19 protocols mean England’s players are eating alone and not mixing in each other’s rooms as they continue their preparations at St George’s Park.
The venue is primarily used by the national football squad and as Vunipola and his teammates go in search of creating iconic moments on the international stage, he will be able to take inspiration from a figure who has done just that.
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“In my room I have a photograph of David Beckham when he scored against Greece to qualify for the (2002 World Cup),” said Vunipola. “That is pretty cool.
“(But) it can be tough because you want to have that face-to-face connection with people.
“There are certain times when we are in our rooms and certain times when we are outside of our rooms. To be able to have our own rooms and space sometimes can be tough because you want to have that face-to-face connection with people. We are human beings.
“At the same time it is class having your own room but sometimes you want to talk to a guy next to you.”