Thursday 22 February 2018

Vunipola set for another spell out

The popular No 8 has had a savage time of it over the past 12 months. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The popular No 8 has had a savage time of it over the past 12 months. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile Sportsdesk

Billy Vunipola has been ruled out of action for four months after scans confirmed he sustained a knee-cartilage injury in Saracens' 41-13 win over Sale Sharks on Saturday.

It is the second time in a matter of months that Vunipola's sporting world has been shaken to the core, with the injury ruling him out of the November Test series at least the opening part of the 2018 Six Nations championship, an absence that compounds his withdrawal from the Lions tour to New Zealand with a shoulder injury.

The popular No 8, whom Eddie Jones believes has the potential to be the best in the world, has had a savage time of it over the past 12 months, with a similar injury to the same knee in November 2016 requiring surgery and causing him to miss most of last season's Six Nations championship.

Harlequins' back-row forward Jack Clifford has been called up to replace him in the 33-man England squad that gathered in Oxford yesterday for a three-day camp.

Vunipola returned to action only last weekend, making a sizeable contribution to Saracens' win over Newcastle in Philadelphia. The expectation was that he would reach full match fitness over the coming weeks. But much as his England colleague, Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi seems to be afflicted by injury upon injury, so is Vunipola having to battle through the psychological as much as physical difficulties of constant rehabilitation.

Vunipola underwent surgery yesterday morning to repair the meniscus on his right knee.

"For any team to lose a player of the ability of Billy is a blow and he will be missed through the autumn for both Saracens and England," said Saracens' director of rugby, Mark McCall. "It's desperately disappointing for him, considering how hard he has worked during the off-season to get back to full fitness, but Billy is a resilient character and he'll have a strong support network around him to get him back on the field in the best possible shape."

Meanwhile, Michael Bradley got his first win as Zebre coach as the Italians overturned the Southern Kings on their own patch.

Zebre resisted a brief Kings comeback as they scored six tries to secure their maiden victory of the season with a 43-17 win at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

It was a big weekend for Italian rugby as Treviso stunned the Ospreys. It is the first time that Treviso have claimed back-to-back wins since February 2016, after defeating Edinburgh in an impressive away showing last week.

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