Billy Vunipola believes the return of supporters will enhance England’s performances, saying the effect of having a crowd will make the players want to show off.
Twickenham will host a crowd for Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup final against France for the first time since March, with 2,000 fans due to attend. Vunipola accepts that the autumn fixtures have been largely underwhelming spectacles, but believes having an audience makes a difference.
While the 2,000 will not generate the kind of atmosphere 82,000 do, Vunipola sees it as a step in the right direction, with the Rugby Football Union hopeful of far more attending England’s three home Six Nations matches next year.
“Having fans there is massive because they add to the atmosphere,” he said. “When people are there, we want to entertain them. It’s a bit like when you were younger and the girls used to turn up to PE and you always wanted to show off. It is a bit similar to that.”
England named a strong 27-man squad on Tuesday for Sunday’s final, with the fit-again Ollie Lawrence back in the frame and Eddie Jones largely sticking by the players who have claimed four wins this autumn.
Theories as to why those victories – over Italy, Ireland, Georgia and Wales – have been largely forgettable are numerous, ranging from the unintended consequences of new interpretations of breakdown laws to the cyclical nature of World Cup campaigns, with Vunipola now offering his views. In addition, the No 8 believes the hectic schedule to finish last season’s Premiership has not helped.
“I understand what people are saying,” he added. “When I watch games as a neutral, sometimes it is hard to keep your focus on certain games. You have got to think we have had three weeks off [since the end of the season], boys are still carrying a little bit of fatigue, and everyone is basically trying to look after themselves.
“Winning has become way more important than playing the type of rugby that people want to watch. It will change, it always does, but we will see how long down the line it will take for that to happen.”
The RFU has made a late decision to reverse its policy on keeping Twickenham’s bars shut on Sunday despite previously giving local residents safety assurances that they would be. The union had told residents that as part of safety measures that went “above and beyond” government guidance, bars would be shut. After updated government guidance, however, the RFU has belatedly decided one bar and two stalls serving alcohol will be open, with supporters able to drink in their seats.