Billy Vunipola believes England can only blame themselves after letting Ireland off the hook in Grand Slam denial

Billy Vunipola doesn’t lose many games, be it with Saracens of England, so Saturday’s defeat by Ireland might have come as a bit of a shock. The England No 8 was unable to make the impact that many, including himself, will have wanted to have, as the Irish defence negated his power game to take the fight to the recently re-crowned Six Nations champions.

That Ireland recorded a 13-9 victory suggests a tight game, yet it was anything but. Ireland dominated the attack, the defence and the lineout, with England’s only advantage coming in the driving maul and the second-half scrum, once Jack McGrath has left the field.

The outcome meant that England’s failure to get a stranglehold on the game, as they so often do, resulted in Vunipola rarely receiving clean ball on the front foot. The return of the 24-year-old has appeared to bolster the English pack, but they were roundly outplayed by their Irish counterparts who delivered another famous performance, much like the one that ended New Zealand’s 18-match winning streak last October.

“I think the most frustrating thing was that maybe we didn’t play the way we wanted to,” Vunipola said after the match. “I guess that was down to Ireland. But, look, we still won the championship so we’re happy with that.

“Obviously the result is not what we wanted, but it happens and we’ll be better for it. It’s been a great run but as people keep saying, it was bound to come to an end and unfortunately it did today. It just shows how hard it is to win a Grand Slam first of all, but even more so to win it back-to-back.”

Despite the disappointment, Vunipola was eager to stress the delight in winning the Six Nations championship or a second year, with the Saracens back-row already looking forwards to the night’s celebrations that would involve “a few chocolates and a few puddings”, though there were much bigger plans in place given his admission that the only rule for the night is “don’t…

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