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'I want to play at the World Cup and I haven't shied away from that'

By Daniel Gallan
Mako Vunipola during a training session at Hermanus High School, Hermaus. Picture date: Tuesday August 3, 2021. (Photo by Steve Haag/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Mako Vunipola wants to win a World Cup. Of course he does. Every rugby player around the world dreams of lifting that famous golden trinket. What makes Vunipola’s ambition worthy of mention is that he now has a tangible chance of achieving it, having been brought into an England training camp after a year in the Wilderness.

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“I want to play at the World Cup and I haven’t shied away from that,” Vunipola said after excelling across 63 minutes in Saracens’ 42-38 win over Northampton on Saturday.

“I enjoyed the last World Cup. Obviously we fell short but it was one of the best campaigns I’ve been a part of with England or with the club. I want to do that again but I also want to win the World Cup. For me to play for England I have to play in England and I’m not ready to hang my boots up yet. I’m ready to fight for my position.”

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Vunipola last played for England in a 32-18 loss to Ireland in Dublin in March 2021. He featured in all three British and Irish Lions Tests against South Africa. But when Eddie Jones named his squad for this year’s Six Nations, the 76-Test veteran was left out.

“Any time you get a chance to be in camp… especially at my age you can’t take it for granted,” the 31-year-old said, admitting that it may feel a little “strange” making his return and that he had a “point to prove”.

Tha last sentiment was delivered without any hint of media training. Barefoot and clutching a post-match beer, Vunipola carried himself like a man stripped of pretence, a consequence of his experience as well as considerations that his time in an England shirt had run its course.

He was self-deprecating, blaming himself for one of Northampton’s tries as well as chastising his own performance last week when Saracens surprisingly succumbed to Toulon in their Challenge Cup semi-final encounter in France: “They executed their plan and we just didn’t do the same. That’s partly my fault. When the pressure comes on you expect your leaders to step up and I was a bit gutted and depressed I didn’t do that.”

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He wasn’t entirely downbeat and shifted his tone as he embraced his role as big brother to Billy, suggesting that a previous favourite of Eddie Jones is not far from an England recall himself. “I’m a bit biased obviously because he’s my brother but I’d rather have him in my corner than not,” Vunipola said.

On the field, Vunipola is as hard as they come. He scrums like a demon and serves as a granite link-up man in midfield, belying the number he wears on his back with some silky passing and an acute awareness of how to draw in a tackler.

Which is why it was so refreshing to see him let his guard down, even for a few minutes. He is enjoying his rugby, that much is obvious. As a consequence he has rekindled his international career as well as his ambition to lift a World Cup.

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