Billy Vunipola admits that he finds modern rugby tough viewing, but hopes the return of fans will elevate the game as an attacking spectacle, comparing the situation to showing off to the opposite sex in the schoolyard.
A stilted, defence-dominated Autumn Nations Cup, which concludes with a final between England and an under-strength France team this weekend, has drawn criticism from fans and pundits, who accuse teams of lacking attacking intent and the lawmakers of tilting the balance of power too far in the defenders’ favour.
“Obviously it’s way above my pay grade, but I do watch a lot of rugby and sometimes it can be a bit tough to keep your focus,” said Vunipola.
“Especially when you’ve got your phone and your iPad and everything around you. You’re battling with other sports as well for new fans’ attention.”
Eddie Jones, the England coach, believes the game moves in cycles, and will find a more attacking gear in the coming years. Vunipola agrees.
“Like Eddie said, we had a World Cup that was unbelievable,” he said. “We had as many viewers in terms of our social interactions and TV views than we’ve had previously. The game can’t have changed within that short time span.
"Teams at the moment are prioritising winning and prioritising looking after themselves, especially with what we’re going through, with Covid. Everyone needs to look after themselves. We’ll come out of it and teams will start playing that free-running rugby again.
“Also, having fans there is massive because they add to the atmosphere. 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 and hopefully we can get the fans backs soon.”