Rugby World Cup: Billy Vunipola says England must repeat Ireland performance after record-breaking win

The England number eight is keen to see his team reproduce such a performance away from Twickenham

Jack de Menezes
Monday 26 August 2019 07:36
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It is hard to explain how much we can take out of England’s record-breaking victory over Ireland. It was a Rugby World Cup warm-up, “effectively a pre-season game” as Jonny May put it, but while the Irish side that melted in the Twickenham heat produced unarguably their worst performance of the Joe Schmidt era, England did manage to fire on all cylinders.

Was it a World Cup statement? Yes. A major statement? Probably not. But there was one overriding question resonating through the home dressing room in the wake of the 57-15 win that proved to be England’s most points, largest winning margin and most tries scored against Ireland. “Can we do it away from Twickenham?”

“I would like to see that performance away from home,” said England No 8 Billy Vunipola. “That is the biggest thing for me. I have said it to Eddie in the changing rooms. It is something we need to start doing away from Twickenham.

“That is the biggest challenge next, going to Japan and doing it away from all our fans and the comforts of our home changing room. There is massive scope for us to improve. That is the biggest challenge for us.

“Our next game is against Italy but our biggest game is [the first World Cup match] against Tonga. We need to put out performances like today more consistently. We may not always get the score-lines but we need to be there or thereabouts in terms of fighting for victories. We did that last week, which was awesome. We didn’t get the victory but we were in the game. Today you could see that even the dead moments we were alive. That is great to watch but we need to do it away from Twickenham.”

England have cleared 50 points four times during the Eddie Jones era, and on all four occasions against Fiji, Scotland, Italy and now Ireland, they have come at Twickenham. Away trips tend to bring more conservatism that forces the team to grind out the big victories – Dublin earlier this year, Cape Town last summer and the 2016 tour of Australia certainly fall into this category – but we are yet to see England really cut loose in unfamiliar territory.

It is probably why, after discussing the matter with his powerhouse No 8, Jones was cautiously optimistic after the match: he knows England have this performance in the locker, yet he is also fully aware they need to start producing it more often. Fans will have left Twickenham believing England can actually win the World Cup over the next two months, but the head coach’s job is to ensure that the players are able to block out that noise and not fall into the trap of thinking they already have done just by beating Ireland in a warm-up match.

Billy Vunipola tackles Rob Kearney during England’s 57-15 win over Ireland

“I don’t think that’s a problem for us,” Jones said. “We all know we can get better. The best is yet to come for us and the players understand that. So it’s head down, avoid the noise and make sure we keep working hard.

“The message [to the fans] was the 80 minutes we played. You can’t give a better message than that.

“You never have a clear idea about what is going to happen in the game. The one thing we can’t control is the result of the game. We can control the preparation for the game and we can control who we select, but we can’t control the result of the game.

“So I’m not too excited, I’m not too optimistic that we’re better than we should be. I’ve seen this happen before. We don’t know where Ireland are in their preparation, they could have been doing fitness training for the last week-and-a-half and no rugby, so you’ve got to take everything into consideration. We’ll just keep our feet on the ground.”

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