Vunipola insists England ready to create history
Billy Vunipola has insisted that England are ready to create history against Ireland on Saturday, promising that Eddie Jones's side possess the mental strength to resist the ferocious pressure expected in Dublin as they bid to set a new world record for the number of consecutive Test victories and win a second successive Grand Slam for the first time since 1992.
England's stunning 61-21 victory over Scotland not only retained the Six Nations title ahead of the final round of matches but also equalled New Zealand's previous record of 18 successive Test victories, a feat that was hailed yesterday by All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen.
England's victory also closed the gap on New Zealand at the top of the World Rugby rankings, opening up the prospect of Eddie Jones's side claiming the No 1 spot when the two sides meet next year.
Jones said his side would now achieve "greatness" if they were able to secure back-to-back Grand Slams against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, a feat that has not been achieved since Will Carling's vintage 25 years ago.
Vunipola, who delivered an impressive try-scoring cameo off the bench, insisted the squad were poised to write their own chapter of history in response to the disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign.
Pushing "For sure, I would probably say it is more mental that physical because we have never been in this position before when we can push further on," said Vunipola, who is pushing for a place in the starting XV after his return to the international stage for the first time since November having recovered from a serious knee injury.
"Look it is a big occasion next week. It is the day after St Patrick's Day, it is going to be very, very emotional so we are going to have to turn up with the right mindset to try to negate everything that they are going to bring on the mental side of things and try to impose the game plan that we have.
"Do we want to make the next step or start again from the bottom? We've come a long way. I think Eddie and his coaching staff have pushed us massively to a goal that everyone laughed off at the end of the World Cup but now it's a realistic goal."
As for his coach's assessment that "greatness" is now in their grasp, Vunipola added: "It all joins up. If you win 19 games on the trot you are pushing it.
"We know we're not (world) No 1 yet but we want to do things within our power to show we are serious about this goal."
Hansen welcomed England's renewed challenge as a world power, claiming it was down to the improved work ethic of the squad that has been instilled by Jones.
"Eddie has installed a want and a desire that perhaps has not been there before and a commitment to each other," Hansen told BBC Five Live.
"We always thought England had plenty of talent but did not want to work hard but they are doing that under Eddie and actually loving it.
"Funnily enough, the harder you work, the more results you get so it is no surprise they are putting a run together that is pretty impressive."
England last night named a 31-man training squad, with Elliot Daly the only injury concern.
The Wasps player faces a return-to-play protocol following a possible concussion sustained in the victory over Scotland.
Ireland's own Championship hopes were ended with their defeat by Wales in Cardiff on Friday night but Joe Schmidt's side have the incentive of attempting to stop England's record-breaking and Grand Slam ambitions.
History shows that England should not travel without caution - they have squandered four of their last ix opportunities to win a Grand Slam on the final day of the Six Nations Championship, including a humiliating defeat in Dublin in 2011 when Martin Johnson's side still managed to claim their title on points difference.
Stuart Lancaster's England side suffered an even more calamitous fate in 2013 when his side crashed to a 30-3 defeat in Cardiff by a Wales side who claimed the title and went on to dominate selection for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia that summer.
Danny Care, who scored two tries from the bench in England's rout over Scotland that ended Vern Cotter's side's Championship hopes is one of six survivors in the squad from the 24-8 defeat in Dublin in 2011.
The Harlequins scrum-half expects a similarly tough challenge from Ireland but like Vunipola, says England are prepared for it.
Respect "A few of us have experienced that (losing in Dublin) and it is not a nice feeling," said Care.
"It will be a massive occasion and we know Ireland will want to spoil the party. I'm sure the whole country will take that to beat us and stop us from winning the Slam.
"We'll give Ireland respect they deserve and do our research but we'll really focus on our game and how we can implement it."
Vunipola echoed that sentiment, and revealed that the squad had reviewed the achievements of Carling's side as part of their preparations.
"Eddie doesn't leave any stone unturned," Vunipola added. "But it is not about them it is about far we want to push ourselves.
"It is not just about next week. We will prepare because we want to be the best, it is about being relentless with everything we do. Next week is the biggest challenge and we will go from there.
"It was obviously an emotionally-charged occasion (when Carling's side defeated Wales 24-0 at Twickenham in March 1992 in the old Five Nations) but for us it is a bit different.
"I am not sure how they won it but we are going away to an unbelievably hostile stadium, especially when the English turn up on a very patriot day so we are going to have to prepare for everything." (© Daily Telegraph, London)