'That was our downfall'- Vunipola on England's lessons from the past
The parallel between England’s upcoming fixtures this month and what they might expect at the Rugby World Cup next year is not something that the team are focussing on according to No.8 Billy Vunipola.
England begin their autumn against Argentina on Sunday at Twickenham followed by Japan a week later, which is the exact same schedule for Eddie Jones’ side in the pool stages in France next year. They then go on to play Chile and Samoa in the pool D, whereas they face the All Blacks and South Africa later this month.
The latter two fixtures are what England could expect later on in the tournament next year, should they progress to the semi-final stage, and what they did indeed encounter in the semi-final and final in 2019. But Vunipola emphasised that the squad are not looking at the World Cup next year, rather they are learning from what he described as their “downfall” in the past.
Speaking to RugbyPass during England’s Jersey training camp last week, where Red Bull worked with the RFU to deliver the latest Misogi training camp ahead of the autumn internationals, the Saracen said: “What’s important this autumn is we could potentially play them all next year at the World Cup. It’s not necessarily about focussing on the World Cup but focussing on us and being adaptable. So the last World Cup, we probably got overpowered by South Africa, and just kept trying to play the way that we wanted and we played the week before, that probably was our downfall. Probably something similar happened in Six Nations against Wales that same year.
“I think for us,” he added. “It’s how can we gel as the group that we could play three or four different ways and adapt to any situation that’s in front of us. Because that’s what’s going to happen in the autumn, and potentially in the World Cup as well.”
England had a fairly sizeable injury list going into the camp, although they have been boosted by the returns of Owen Farrell and Jonny May this week. Some frontline players such as Courtney Lawes still remain unavailable, as the Northampton Saints forward is still experiencing concussion symptoms. Despite the number of absentees, Vunipola said that it only inspired a positive response from the squad.
“I think in terms of losing that amount of experience, you just get tighter as a group,” the 64-cap international said.
“Obviously, there’s the leadership team in place before, so they’ve obviously had meetings about what we can take control of more. And then in terms of other players it’s more about trying to integrate as many as possible in the squad and making sure that we are as prepared as we can be for the first game without knowing if they’re going come back in or not. We’ve just go to try our best as a group to get together and learn the way that England want to play and be prepared for the first game.”
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