After a disastrous World Cup for Stuart Lancaster’s England, Billy Vunipola’s ability to deliver on the biggest stage of all was questioned but after a series of eye-catching displays during the Six Nations, the Saracen has moved to the next level according to former Red Rose winner Martin Corry.
Former Harrow School pupil, Vunipola, was one of England’s stand-out performers as Eddie Jones’ men claimed a first Grand Slam title since 2003; he was certainly back to his destructive ball-carrying best.
He was England’s go-to man to get over the gain-line and his dynamism with ball in hand gave Jones’ talented back-line the platform to play attacking and creative rugby throughout the tournament.
Vunipola was this week shortlisted for the Green Flag Forward of the Season and his latest accolade is just the beginning of what is going to be another breakthrough year; that’s according to Corry.
Corry headed a judging panel consisting of Emma Thurston from Out On The Full, Andrew McKenna of TalkSport and Neale Harvey of the Rugby Paper to run the rule over Aviva Premiership Rugby’s most consistent performers. The panel was chaired by Premiership Rugby’s Communications Director Paul Morgan.
Vunipola, who will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of 2014 winner Nick Easter and 2015 winner Nathan Hughes, was joined on the shortlist by Nili Latu, Maro Itoje, George Smith, Teimana Harrison and George Kruis for the Green Flag Forward of the Season.
And Corry admitted selecting the nominees was as tough around the judging table as the players’ performances had been on the field for their clubs in the Aviva Premiership.
“What I really like about Billy Vunipola is that last year, his consistency wasn’t there especially in the big games, but this time he has really stepped up and he is playing as well in the big games as he is in the lesser fixtures,” said Corry.
“You look at his impact for England; he was phenomenal, especially in the early rounds of the Grand Slam.
“We have to celebrate the Grand Slam and he was the key ball carrier for us in that side and his season has been immense, his performances for England, he was just our go-to.
“If you look at the Ireland game, they tried to shut him out and they just couldn’t, he was there constantly getting in the game, constantly getting us the go-forward from which we could launch our attacks.
“He is without doubt a phenomenal ball-carrier and the reason he is always going to be in the team is because of his ball-carrying and his off-loading game, which is developing.”
The winner will rub shoulders with the biggest names in English rugby at the glittering sold out Aviva Premiership Rugby Awards ceremony at the London Hilton, Park Lane presented by BT Sport’s Craig Doyle.
Along with the winner of the Green Flag Forward of the Season – on 18 May – the winners for Aviva Premiership Rugby Player of the Season, Aviva Community Player of the Season, BT Sport Dream Team, Citizen Try of the Season, Gilbert Golden Boot, Women’s Premiership Players’ Player of the Year, Guinness Director of Rugby of the Season, Land Rover Discovery of the Season, Singha Premiership Rugby 7s Player of the Series and Trivento Top Try Scorer of the Season will also be presented.
And Corry has challenged Vunipola to keep developing his game; sides around the world will be aware of the threat the Saracen now poses with ball in hand and will no doubt target him going forward.
“If you’re going to play against Billy Vunipola, as a defensive team you’re going to say you need to get on him and you need to stop that go-forward,” he added.
“So it is about how he is going to keep influencing the game, knowing that he is going to get more and more attention.
“Defensively, people are going to try and mark him out of the game, but I think he has showed that in those big games this year, but he needs to keep being a big presence in big games.
“I think Billy Vunipola has been immense and what I have been really impressed with this season is how he has stepped up in the big games with Saracens and probably more importantly, with England when we needed someone to give us go-forward, the first pass always went to Billy.
“That is probably a mark of the man and how he has grown into this position. He has made this position, for Saracens and for England, his own.
“He is really standing up. Last season was good, but he has really kicked on again.”
The winners will be announced first on Twitter via the @premrugby account on the evening of 18 May. Use hashtag #AvivaPremAwards to join the conversation or follow @GreenFlagUK #rugbytribe