Billy Vunipola has promised England will “come out firing” in the World Cup final against South Africa after getting rugby tips from his auntie ahead of the biggest game of his life.
The 26-year-old human bulldozer called for a rampant England to go again on Saturday in Yokohama after stunning defending champions New Zealand 19-7 to move one win from a second world title.
“We’ve got to back up what we did last week – it can’t be a fluke,” Vunipola said, predicting a titanic clash up front against South Africa’s hulking pack.
“The challenge has been laid out by South Africa. You saw them take Japan apart, then Wales,” the No 8 added before a repeat of the 2007 final, which South Africa won 15-6 with current England coach Eddie Jones working as a technical advisor to the Springboks.
“Obviously they’re big, big people, but then we’ve got a few big blokes on our team. They’ve already come out and said they’re going to fight fire with fire. I guess we return serve by saying: ‘Bring it on!’ It’s a final – you have to front up.”
England’s run to their fourth World Cup final has firmly banished the demons of their 2015 flop and the humiliation of becoming the first host nation to exit at the pool stage, under Stuart Lancaster.
They are a different animal under Jones, who was Australia’s coach when England beat the Wallabies in the 2003 final thanks to Jonny Wilkinson’s famous extra-time drop goal.
“We want to peak at the end of the tournament,” Vunipola, one of those who remembers the 2015 World Cup only too well, said. “The All Blacks have been the best in the world forever – obviously we want to be the best in the world.”
England defense coach John Mitchell has spoken of the need for England to be “brutal” in the tackle, as they were against New Zealand, whose players were on the end of some monster hits from the likes of Maro Itoje, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry.
“What we are going to witness are the two most powerful rugby teams in the world,” former All Blacks coach Mitchell said. “The gain line is going to be huge. Going back to our DNA, we feel it’s really important to us. We feel there is more to bring out.”
Vunipola noted how those huge tackles on the All Blacks had sent the adrenalin surging through the players’ veins. “It’s something you probably can’t measure,” he said. “But the best way to explain it is it’s quite contagious.
“It shows everyone that it can be done – so everyone else just tries to follow in the slipstream of Unders [Underhill], Curry and Maro [Itoje],” the England back-row star added, who has opposite number Duane Vermeulen in his cross-hairs after underlining the importance of winning personal battles.
“It’s easy to sit here and say we want to be brutal, but you have to back those words up,” he added.
But as England prepare to face two-time champs South Africa, Vunipola admits he and older brother Mako are struggling to find tickets for their “massive” family – and that some relatives have had a little too much to say this week.
“They can be a distraction,” he smiled. “Trying to give you pointers on how to play rugby. My auntie’s always great for that, trying to tell me how to play number eight – and to my brother as well.”