ENGLAND HAVE ‘COME A LONG WAY’
From early exit in 2015 World Cup to winning Six Nations crown
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.
England’s Danny Care scores a try against Scotland in the Calcutta Cup on Saturday.