Six Nations 2014: Billy Vunipola wants England to lose tag of 'nearly men' after late defeat by France


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The Independent Online

Billy Vunipola believes England are in danger of becoming the "nearly men" of international rugby after their 26-24 loss to France at the start of the Six Nations' Championship.

Having lost to New Zealand in the autumn when England had a great opportunity to defeat the world champions for a second successive season, the Saracens No 8 put in a Herculean effort to overcome the French, who staged a last-gasp fightback to snatch the game. Vunipola said: "We have to stop being the nearly men and start winning these kind of matches, because it's heartbreaking to lose after putting in so much effort.

"I was watching those last minutes on the bench and it was squeaky- bum time, because you know what France can do.

"Hopefully we can now do what Wales did and win the Six Nations after losing the first game. We have to bounce back against Scotland."

Captain Chris Robshaw disagreed with Vunipola when it came to the "nearly men" tag, but admitted his players had to start nailing down games when they get into a lead. "I don't think we are nearly men and we gave them too many points' start," Robshaw said. "It is gutting losing like that.

"We have to look at why we are allowing sides that kind of lead. We did fight back really well, and we saw last season that Wales won the Championship after starting with a defeat. We have to take inspiration from their lead."

Philippe Saint-André, the French coach, deflected criticism of the period when his side looked second best, saying: "We were lucky to score two early tries, and in the second half it was more difficult. We did win the game and we must remember that, and it is a great start to the season.

"I will not say that this is a revolution for the team, it's been an evolution, and I want to say thanks for the union and the clubs for letting us have two weeks preparation for this game. Without that we wouldn't have won that match. The next step is to work on having a full break in the summer.

"It is true that at 16-3 up we mismanaged the game and were less aggressive. That is when England put us under a lot of pressure, but the fresh French players came on and in the last 15 minutes that helped us find some openings.

"This is the beginning of the story of a young team and we know where we have to improve – particularly the line-out and our defence."

The French captain, Pascal Papé, who was part of the wooden-spoon side last season, added: "Yes, it was a really tough game and England played really well. It's good to have a smile back on our faces and we can't say we were reborn – but we learnt our lessons from 2013.

"The spirit in the team was the most important, particularly in the difficult moments."