Billy Vunipola details spat with Steve Borthwick following return to England fold
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Billy Vunipola has opened up about his relationship with Steve Borthwick after he was named in England’s 33-man Rugby World Cup squad this week, despite initially being overlooked by the head coach.
Vunipola was omitted from Borthwick’s first Six Nations squad earlier this year and it was suggested that there was a rift between the pair from an incident that occurred a few years back when Borthwick was Eddie Jones’ assistant coach.
Now back in Borthwick’s plans, having been named as the only recognised number eight in the squad with Alex Dombrandt missing out, Vunipola has opened up on his relationship with Borthwick in a brilliant tell-all interview with the Times.
“When someone says something to you, and you get offended by it – for example, if someone says to me: ‘Billy you need to lose some weight’ and I get offended by it – it usually means that it is right,” Vunipola told Telegraph Sport.
“So, when I had a conversation with Steve and he told me that I wasn’t playing to my potential and that I wasn’t doing my job, my first reaction was: ‘Who is this guy to say that?’ But when I sat down and finally thought about it, I said to myself: ‘Do you know what, he is right.’ It was obvious to see that I wasn’t playing well in November.”
Addressing the incident from a few years back, Vunipola admitted his behaviour had been unacceptable.
“I was very, very ahead of myself back then,” Vunipola said.
“Because you know we had just won the double with Saracens, I had played really well in the semi-final and final and knew I was going to be in the England squad.
“I had a conversation with Steve about rugby after training when we were in Treviso. I said a few things that were out of line, basically. I said some things that never should have been said to Steve in that way, but also in front of other people.
“We had already had conversations about my rugby in January and it is important to say that I don’t believe it had anything to do with me not playing in the Six Nations.
“But I felt it was important for myself to address the issue and actually apologise to Steve, having matured a little bit. I just wanted to let him know that I was sorry, because I am sorry, you know.
“He should never have been in that situation where I’ve made him feel like I was patronising towards him. Especially as an elder, not just the coach but someone who’s older than me. It was very disrespectful what I did to Steve.”
In response, Borthwick says Vunipola’s apology for the pair’s falling out in 2019 is “a sign of his character.”
“I’m delighted he is here in the squad,” Borthwick told BBC Sport.
“From my point of view, I think it may have been made into a bigger issue than it was in reality. We have always kept in contact and I’m looking forward to seeing him run out there at Twickenham on Saturday.”
Vunipola has not played for England since November 2022 but now looks set to play a prominent role this weekend and in France for the World Cup.