Sunday 17 November 2019

'Bring it on' - England's Billy Vunipola relishing physical battle with South Africa in World Cup final

England's Billy Vunipola during the press conference at Keio Plaza Hotel, Tokyo
England's Billy Vunipola during the press conference at Keio Plaza Hotel, Tokyo

Jonathan Bradley in Japan

Contemplating the physical challenge South Africa will pose in Saturday's World Cup final, England's Billy Vunipola had a simple message on Tuesday..."bring it on."

The Saracens number eight, who again excelled against the All Blacks in the semi-finals, figures to be front and centre in a shuddering battle between two dominant forward packs in Yokohama and already appears to be relishing the task.

"It's easy to sit here and say we want to be brutal, but you have to back those words up," he said.

"They are very big people but then again we have a few big blokes on our team. They have already come out and said they want to fight fire with fire and I guess we return it by saying, 'Bring it on'.

"It is a final and it's one of those have to front up to it as one of their biggest assets."

In doing so against the All Blacks last weekend, it was striking how England used their defence to set the tone, the likes of Sam Underhill, Maro Itoje, Tom Curry and Vuniplola himself all landing a few big hits to stop the back-to-back World Champions in their tracks.

"The All Blacks have been the best in the world forever and that physicality has helped them get to that stage," Vuniplola said.

"Big hits are something that you probably can't measure, but I think the best way to explain it is that it's quite contagious.

"It shows everyone it can be done, so everyone else tries to follow in the slip streams of Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Maro Itoje."

While Wales coach Warren Gatland mischievously suggested England may have already played their final with that historic win in the last four, Vuniplola stressed that his side's ambition has always been to be crowned champions on Saturday, not to beat the All Blacks.

"We set out wanting to be the best in the world, and we have to back up what we did last week," he said. "It can't just be a fluke.

"I think 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.

"Our goal was always to be number one."

Vuniplola, whose father played in two World Cups for Tonga, will have a large family contingent watching at the International Stadium, the only issue at present securing enough tickets for them all.

With a game of such magnitude to focus on, Vuniplola joked that thankfully his older brother Mako, England's loosehead prop, is in charge of such admin.

"We're trying to lock in on Saturday and see how we can come out firing," he added.

"Family support is very important to us but things can also be a distraction.

"Tickets, giving you pointers on how to play rugby… my auntie is always great for that. She's trying to tell me how to play number eight and giving my brother a few pointers as well."

Meanwhile, at his own news conference in Tokyo today, Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus confirmed that star wing Cheslin Kolbe will be fit for the weekend after missing out on the semi-final win over Wales with an ankle problem.

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