Rugby World Cup: England pin quarter-final hope on return of Vunipola brothers

Mirror Online Sports 1 month ago

Billy Vunipola says brotherly love can sweep England into the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup.

On the eve of England’s biggest match for four years, Saracens star Vunipola warned Australia that having brother Mako back in the side would bring the best out of him.

England have not lost a Test with the two of them on the team sheet since June 2018, but injuries to one or both means this is the first time they have appeared together in this tournament.

“Do I play better with Mako in the team? It’s definitely a thing,” said No.8 Billy. “I enjoy having him around, he’s a bit like my shield. He takes a lot of pressure off me because he’s the older brother.

 
Billy Vunipola: "Mako's a bit like my shield"

“Anything that comes towards the Vunipolas he usually takes the brunt of, as big brothers do. I’m in the back just kicking back, as younger brothers do!”

Together the pair have won European Cups and Premiership finals with Saracens and a Grand Slam with England. They also combined to sweep Australia 3-0 in the historic 2016 series triumph.

“We have a funny relationship,” Billy admitted. “Deep down I think we really love each other but he’d never say it to me. I always say it to him and he gets embarrassed and runs away.

 
Mako Vunipola starts his first game of World Cup

“But there is definitely that love and respect. We don’t have to hang around and tell each other every day or every other minute how much we care for each other, it’s just there.”

There are shades of the Williams sisters here, which becomes even more clear when Billy reveals how he could not play against his brother.

“The last time I did it, for Wasps against Saracens, a few weeks later I signed for the same club,” he revealed. “It was difficult, I didn't want to tackle him, it felt really weird. I’d rather be with him than against him.”

 
Brotherly love: Billy and Mako

What he is saying is that together they are greater than the sum of their parts - and all of England will drink to that.

Billy, by his own admission, did not get close to his best in the pool stages when Mako was absent battling a hamstring injury.

“I was not given as much time and space as I was used to,” he said, conceding that opponents worked out where he liked to carry and were waiting for him.

 
Mako Vunipola in thick of it in England's last meeting with Australia

“I went from using no footwork to using a lot of footwork and now I think I need to go back as I wasn’t doing any tough carries. I need to do the hard yards.

“Having my brother in the team will help because he is as much of a threat (as a carrier) and him going really well off nine gives me space and timing in the next carry.”

When England played Australia at this stage of the 2007 World Cup one or two players had already packed - fearing, wrongly as it turned out, that they were heading home.

With the return of the Vunipolas, nobody is contemplating an early departure.

ENGLAND: Daly; Watson, Slade, Tuilagi, May; Farrell (capt), Youngs; M Vunipola, George, Sinckler; Itoje, Lawes; Curry, Underhill, B Vunipola.

    Repl: Cowan-Dickie, Marler, Cole, Kruis, Ludlam, Heinz, Ford, Joseph.

AUSTRALIA: Beale; Hodge, Petaia, Kerevi, Koroibete; Lealiifano, Genia; Alaalatoa, Latu, Sio; Arnold, Rodda; Naisarani, Hooper (capt), Pocock.

    Repl: Uelese, Slipper, Tupou, Coleman, Salakaia-Loto, White, To'omua, O'Connor.


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