ENG­LAND HAVE ‘COME A LONG WAY’

From early exit in 2015 World Cup to win­ning Six Na­tions crown

New Straits Times - - Sport -

BILLY Vu­nipola ac­cepts Eng­land have “come a long way” fol­low­ing their mis­er­able 2015 World Cup cam­paign but are de­ter­mined not to rest on their lau­rels when they seek fresh Grand Slam glory against Ire­land.

Eng­land head to Dublin hav­ing wrapped up the Six Na­tions ti­tle with a round to spare for the sec­ond year in a row and know­ing they are just 80 min­utes away from com­plet­ing the rare feat of back-to-back Grand Slams.

Vic­tory at Lans­downe Road on Satur­day would also see Eng­land sur­pass world cham­pi­ons New Zealand’s record of 18 suc­ces­sive Test wins by a ‘tier one’ or ma­jor rugby union na­tion.

Eng­land, in­fa­mously, could not even win two games in a row at their own World Cup, de­feats on con­sec­u­tive week­ends at Twick­en­ham by Wales and Aus­tralia con­demn­ing the tour­na­ment hosts to a first-round exit.

By the time their cur­rent win­ning streak started with a 60-3 ham­mer­ing of Uruguay in a ‘dead’ pool game, the fate of then Eng­land coach Stu­art Lan­caster had been all but sealed and soon af­ter the World Cup he was re­placed by Ed­die Jones.

The trans­for­ma­tion has been stark, with Eng­land yet to lose a match un­der their Aus­tralian coach and Vu­nipola for one doesn’t want the win­ning run to end.

“Do we want to make the next step or start again from the bot­tom?” said the Sara­cens No 8.

“We’ve come a long way,” he added. “I think Ed­die and his coach­ing staff have pushed us mas­sively to a goal at which ev­ery­one would have laughed at the end of the World Cup, but now it’s re­al­is­tic.

“I would prob­a­bly say the Ire­land game is more men­tal than phys­i­cal be­cause we have never been in this po­si­tion be­fore, whereby we can push even fur­ther on.

“It’s a big oc­ca­sion next week. It’s the day af­ter St Pa­trick’s Day, it is go­ing to be very, very emo­tional so we are go­ing to have to turn up with the right mind­set to try to negate ev­ery­thing Ire­land are go­ing to bring on the men­tal side of things.”

Jones’s ul­ti­mate am­bi­tion with Eng­land is to knock the All Blacks of their perch by win­ning the 2019 World Cup in Ja­pan.

“It all joins up,” said Vu­nipola, whose older brother Mako is an Eng­land prop. “If you win 19 games on the trot you are push­ing it. We know we’re not num­ber one yet but we want to do things within our power to show we are se­ri­ous about this goal.”

Eng­land ran in seven tries as they ham­mered Scot­land 61-21 to win the Cal­cutta Cup on Satur­day.

But the loud­est cheer of the day came when fans’ favourite Vu­nipola re­placed Nathan Hughes, the start­ing No 8, early in the sec­ond half.

It was Vu­nipola’s first in­ter­na­tional ap­pear­ance of this Six Na­tions af­ter he suf­fered a knee lig­a­ment in­jury back in Novem­ber.

Vu­nipola did not take long to make his pres­ence felt, pow­er­ing over for a close-range try just min­utes af­ter tak­ing the field.

“I never ex­pected any­thing like that re­cep­tion,” said Vu­nipola. “It’s very hum­bling to get them cheer­ing me like that, al­though I be­lieve it was more for Nathan Hughes com­ing off be­cause he had a stormer,” he added mod­estly.

REUTERS PIC

Eng­land’s Danny Care scores a try against Scot­land in the Cal­cutta Cup on Satur­day.

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