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'This is the first game but there's an extra layer because it's Ireland'

Billy Vunipola says England are ‘quietly confident’ as they prepare for their opening Six Nations game in Dublin.

Billy Vunipola in action against Ireland during the 2017 Six Nations.
Billy Vunipola in action against Ireland during the 2017 Six Nations.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

ENGLAND’S BILLY VUNIPOLA says facing Ireland in their opening Six Nations tie brings an “extra layer” of motivation for Eddie Jones’ charges.

Joe Schmidt’s side will host England in the much-anticipated clash at the Aviva Stadium on 2 February after competing their Grand Slam success in Twickenham last year.

Ireland added to that triumph by claiming a series victory in Australia later in the year before making history with a first-ever win over the All Blacks on home soil.

They will go into this year’s Six Nations as favourites to defend their crown, which gives England the underdogs tag as they prepare for their trip to Dublin.

“Ireland had a great year last year but they’ve always been good,” says Vunipola. “I think this year with us, it’s not so much being the hunter, you just want to go out there and play rugby.

“Even if we were in the position of Ireland, you just try to play your best rugby. Sometimes that doesn’t happen. Hopefully we can do that and put on a performance against Ireland that will test them.

The first game always has a massive onus on it. This is the first game but there’s an extra layer there because it’s Ireland.

“They were the Grand Slam winners last year and they’re the ones who are kind of flying the flag for Europe right now.

“Quietly, we’re confident that we can put on performances that will test teams.”

The Ireland team celebrate winning the grand slam The victorious Ireland team after their Grand Slam victory last year. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The hurt of England’s 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign still lingers among the squad four years on, according to Vunipola.

Under Stuart Lancaster, England became the first host nation to be eliminated at the pool stage, following defeats to Wales and Australia at Twickenham.

Vunipola was part of Lancaster’s squad for the tournament until a knee injury sustained in the loss to Wales curtailed his involvement.

The failure cost Lancaster his job and, after Eddie Jones was installed as coach, England embarked on an 18-match winning run that equalled New Zealand’s world record.

And for Vunipola, who also won the Premiership and Champions Cup with Saracens in the year that followed, it is the team’s response to failure – not the disappointment itself – that will motivate England as they bid to bounce back from a fifth-place finish in last season’s Six Nations.

“[The World Cup disappointment] is still there. We talk about it now, but it won’t motivate me to be better. It’ll motivate me to never, ever play like that again.

Personally, it was a tough time to go through.

“But we now know what happened after 2015 – that 2016 year both at the club and with England. So, there’s always good things [to come] and hopefully we can kick on from last year after that fifth-place finish.

“It was tough to take but probably something that we have to learn from. We have to show that this year.

“It was a good learning curve for us. It’s kind of given us a base to push on now. Hopefully this year we can be way better.”

Additional reporting by Sinéad Farrell

Ahead of the final weekend of European pool games, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look at what each of the provinces can expect, and who impressed last weekend:


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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