Vu­nipola set to start against Wales as Lan­caster pre­pares to ring changes

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Front Page - By Steve James RUGBY UNION COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Eng­land look set to make changes for their crunch Pool A clash against Wales at Twick­en­ham next Satur­day. They won the open­ing fix­ture of the World Cup at Twick­en­ham on Fri­day night, de­feat­ing Fiji 35-11, but it was not a con­vinc­ing per­for­mance, with Eng­land’s bench set­tling mat­ters in the sec­ond half and claim­ing a bonus point for four tries with the very last play.

“We’ve never said we were go­ing to pick the same team week in, week out,” Stu­art Lan­caster, the head coach, said. The most likely change is at No 8 where Ben Mor­gan could be re­placed by Billy Vu­nipola. Both the Vu­nipola broth­ers, Billy and prop Mako, were among the re­place­ments, along with Joe Launch­bury, Sam Burgess, Owen Far­rell and Richard Wigglesworth, who im­pressed hugely against Fiji.

“We were a bit lat­eral to­wards the end of the first half and cer­tainly at the start of the sec­ond,” Lan­caster said. “We needed some energy from the bench and they all brought a bit more punch to the per­for­mance and we got quicker ball. Sam [Burgess] did well but equally Mako and Billy Vu­nipola did well, Owen [Far­rell] did well, Wiggy [Wigglesworth] did well at the break­down, Launch­bury had an ex­cel­lent 25 min­utes. It was a col­lec­tive.”

Launch­bury could easily be named in the start­ing line-up against Wales as Eng­land look to beef up their for­ward ef­fort. Ge­off Par­ling was orig­i­nally in­tro­duced to sort out Eng­land’s li­ne­out prob­lems, but that has led to de­creased power at the scrum­mage and Eng­land have also missed Launch­bury’s skills at the break­down.

“The for­wards were a bit frus­trated with the break­downs, scrum and li­ne­out,” Lan­caster said. “They are the for­wards’ bread and but­ter and we’ve got some work to do in that area.”

Eng­land had the week­end off and will re­con­vene in Bagshot tonight, but Lan­caster in­sisted the work up front would be high pri­or­ity when they be­gin train­ing on Tues­day. “Mon­day will be about re­view and anal­y­sis,” he said. “Tues­day is unit day and scrum, li­ne­out, break­down will be top of the list.”

Burgess could push Brad Bar­ritt, who was dis­ap­point­ing, for a place but it is more likely that Far­rell will put pres­sure on Ge­orge Ford for the fly-half spot as Eng­land face a stormy and emo­tional match against their old en­emy.

Lan­caster will an­nounce his team on Thurs­day. “We’ll watch Wales’s game,” he said. “We’ll de­cide our se­lec­tion Mon­day, Tues­day. We se­lect it on a week-by-week ba­sis, and we will de­cide what’s best to play Wales. We know them pretty well, we know the qual­ity of the play­ers they’ve got, and how well War­ren Gat­land and Shaun Ed­wards will have them.

“I think all our play­ers will be pleased to have got the four tries [against Fiji] but they will all think that we need to be bet­ter to beat Wales.”

Billy Vu­nipola had the last word on the field and off it on Fri­day night. Scor­ing Eng­land’s fourth try with the last play of the game en­sured that a cru­cial bonus point was gar­nered, but then he later left observers gob­s­macked when con­fess­ing that he did not even know that a bonus-point sys­tem was in op­er­a­tion.

No won­der that it is so of­ten said that he is so young. He is only 22, af­ter all. But it is not as if it is go­ing to af­fect his game, is it? Vu­nipola knows only one way. Give him the ball and he will look to bul­lock his way as far down field as pos­si­ble. He is hardly go­ing to kick pos­ses­sion away.

Ap­par­ently the Eng­land squad had been re­minded of the bonus-point sce­nario on Fri­day at train­ing, but Vu­nipola clearly had other things on his mind. Like caus­ing havoc once he was given his chance off the bench so that he could prove that he should be the start­ing No 8 once and for all.

“I wanted to prove a point when I came on be­cause all the week in train­ing I had been chomp­ing at the bit to get my op­por­tu­nity,” he said. “I can’t let that emo­tion go away when I come on. You do get frus­trated [be­ing on the bench], but if I am sit­ting there sulk­ing and giv­ing up bad body lan­guage to the other play­ers, then I am not do­ing my bit to help the squad. I am not back­ing the cause up and could af­fect the team. It’s a very tough po­si­tion to be in, but you have to deal with it.”

Deal with it he did on Fri­day be­cause his per­for­mance was such that it seems in­con­ceiv­able that he will not be se­lected ahead of Ben Mor­gan in the start­ing line up against Wales next Satur­day at Twick­en­ham.

“Morgs and I have got a good re­la­tion­ship, so who­ever gets the tap

on the shoul­der, the other per­son is happy for them,” he says. “Ev­ery­one wants to start, but the po­si­tion I am in at the mo­ment is very tough and the com­pe­ti­tion is very high, but that’s in­ter­na­tional rugby.”

It will be in­ter­na­tional rugby at its most fe­ro­cious against Wales, too. “We went down to Cardiff in the Six Na­tions and turned them over,” Vu­nipola said. “So they will want to put the record straight and come to our place and do that to us.

“We have to be care­ful and do ev­ery­thing right both phys­i­cally and men­tally. Wales are a very good team. It’s go­ing to be a mas­sive game against our big ri­vals, it’s go­ing to be tough.”

Of course, Wales means much to Vu­nipola as he spent a good part of his child­hood there with brother, Mako, along­side Toby Fale­tau, while their re­spec­tive fathers played Welsh club rugby. It is Fale­tau whom he will prob­a­bly line up against next Satur­day.

“I have a lot of fam­ily friends in Ebbw Vale who helped us when we were grow­ing up,” Vu­nipola said. “There’s a lot of ri­valry be­tween Eng­land and Wales, but it is a coun­try Mako and I like. Mako has a strong Welsh ac­cent, which is strange for a Ton­gan. He’s been lazy with it and I think he likes it so he wants to keep it, though he doesn’t speak any Welsh.”

So it prom­ises to be an in­ter­est­ing week for all con­cerned. It might be even more in­ter­est­ing if War­ren Gat­land, the Wales head coach, de­cides to whip up a storm, as he does not ap­pear to fear do­ing, even if a per­sonal opin­ion is that he usu­ally just an­swers ques­tions hon­estly. The so-called ‘mind games’ are of­ten no such things.

“Ob­vi­ously for them, they have lost two very key play­ers [in Leigh Half- penny and Rhys Webb],” Vu­nipola said. “Ev­ery­one is hav­ing a go at Gat­land, his back is against the wall so he has to come out fight­ing. It doesn’t in­ter­est me, to be hon­est. It only works if you re­act to it, but it is some­thing that we don’t re­ally pay any at­ten­tion to.

“I am more in­ter­ested in the fact that we are play­ing Wales at home in a World Cup and I am in it. He is very good at them, very good at them, he is a sea­soned pro­fes­sional at what he does, he wins a lot of games and tro­phies. So we can­not get into that kind of nitty-gritty stuff.”

That can wait for the pitch. Then there will be plenty of it, es­pe­cially for Vu­nipola who, if se­lected, must en­sure that Eng­land win the gain-line bat­tles. Against Wales that is al­ways the most im­por­tant facet of the game and few can make such an im­pres­sion in that area like Vu­nipola.

Un­stop­pable force: Billy Vu­nipola goes on the charge against Fiji

Power player: Billy Vu­nipola made a big im­pres­sion when he came on and is likely to start against Wales next week­end

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