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Vunipola: 'Family can be distraction'

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'Family can be a distraction. Tickets, giving you pointers on how to play rugby... my auntie is always great for that'

Billy Vunipola is trying to limit family distractions as he and brother Mako prepare for the biggest game of their lives. 

The Vunipola brothers have been at the heart of the England pack that has blasted its way into a first World Cup final appearance since 2007, picking off southern hemisphere rivals Argentina, Australia and now dethroned champions New Zealand after early tournament feelers versus Tonga and USA.

However, the more serious the fixtures have become, the more the interest from their family and with tickets at a premium for next Saturday’s final in Yokohama, Billy Vunipola is trying to not lose focus in any way on the bottom line of producing a performance. 

“Those things are out of our control,” he said about the demand from family for match tickets. “I’ve got a massive family so I’m dealing with it first hand, but our focus is on the final and how we can best challenge South Africa and win the game.

“Family is quite a broad statement. I’m not sure. Like I said two weeks ago, my brother deals with it. I feel sorry for him sometimes. He is the admin point so if you want tickets just ask my brother. They [family] are massive but they can be a distraction as well. Tickets, giving you pointers on how to play rugby… my auntie is always great for that. 

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“She’s trying to tell me how to play No8 and giving my brother a few pointers as well. Their support is very important to us but things can also be a distraction. Like I said, we’re trying to lock in on Saturday and see how we can come out firing.”

In light of the bruising, brutal way South Africa ground out their narrow semi-final win over Wales on Sunday, there has been much talk about the physicality of the Springboks. Vunipola, though, doesn’t believe they are any more physically imposing than New Zealand.

Is that a trick question? The All Blacks have been the best in the world forever and that physicality has helped them get to that stage. We set out wanting to be the best in the world, and we have to back up what we did last week. It can’t just be a fluke.

“The challenge has been laid out by South Africa – as you saw them taking Japan apart, and Wales, the challenge is going to be up front so we are going to have to be there, both mentally and physically.”

As captain, Owen Farrell will join Martin Johnson’s exclusive club of one if he leads England to victory next weekend and emulates the achievement of 2003, the only other time the Red Rose has tasted World Cup glory. 

Farrell is regularly viewed from the outside as a divisive figure, but Vunipola has no issue whatsoever with the captaincy style of his Saracens and England team-mate. 

“With Owen the biggest thing is the calmness he’s brought into his game. You can probably hear him shouting on the ref mic all the time, but when there’s a break in play he’s a different guy. He’s a very calming influence on everyone around him.

“But we also trust him to go to the refs and we leave him with that, but in terms of leaders around him they’ve also been great. Everyone else just goes about their job and we try to be brutal and fly into whatever needs to be flown into.”

WATCH: Former England international Neil Back sits down with RugbyPass to reflect on his country’s 2003 World Cup final victory

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'Family can be a distraction. Tickets, giving you pointers on how to play rugby... my auntie is always great for that'