Billy Vunipola insists England are ready to achieve the “greatness” demanded by Eddie Jones by completing their resurrection from the ruins of their 2015 Rugby World Cup failure.
Back-to-back Grand Slams is the reward available against Ireland in the climax to the Six Nations next Saturday and England head to Dublin having been crowned champions with a round to spare for a second successive year.
The records and accolades are piling up at a dizzying rate, but none would be more precious than eclipsing New Zealand’s milestone of 18 consecutive Test victories, an outcome that would accompany victory over Joe Schmidt’s men.
The race for a spot in the British & Irish Lions touring party intensified over the weekend as the four Home Nations were involved in matches against each other.
Sir Clive Woodward has told England to expect an “ambush” in Dublin next week when they head to Ireland looking to secure the Grand Slam.
An improved work ethic is the secret to England’s 18-game winning run according to All Blacks boss Steve Hansen and he feels Eddie Jones’ team do possess world-class talent in their midfield duo
Less than 18 months ago the accumulation of prized silverware was unimaginable as England mourned a group exit from their own World Cup and despite acknowledging the transformation already undertaken, Vunipola has demanded it continue by repeating the Grand Slam.
“Do we want to make the next step or start again from the bottom?” the Saracens No. 8 said.
“We’ve come a long way. I think Eddie and his coaching staff have pushed us massively to a goal at which everyone would have laughed at the end of the World Cup, but now it’s realistic.
“The Grand Slam was our goal at the start of the tournament and we’re firmly pushing towards it.
“I would probably say the Ireland game is more mental than physical because we have never been in this position before, whereby we can push even further on.
“It’s a big occasion next week. It’s 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 Ireland are going to bring on the mental side of things.”
England are still short of fulfilling their stated aim of becoming the game’s dominant force — a position that can only be truly claimed by winning the 2019 World Cup.
But head coach Jones said after Saturday’s 61-21 demolition of Scotland that his players now had a “fantastic opportunity” to achieve “greatness”, and Vunipola insists they are edging ever closer to achieving their lofty ambitions.
He said: “It all joins up. If you win 19 games on the trot you are pushing it. We know we’re not number one yet but we want to do things within our power to show we are serious about this goal.”
Vunipola played almost half an hour of the demolition of Scotland in his first international appearance since recovering from the knee injury sustained during the autumn.
Billy Vunipola made a try-scoring return to the England pack against Scotland. Paul Cunningham – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
A mighty roar from the Twickenham crowd greeted his arrival on to the pitch in place of starting No. 8 Nathan Hughes and his short-range try was equally well received.
“I never expected anything like that reception. I was just happy to be back on the pitch with the boys. We have a great crowd here at Twickenham,” Vunipola said.
“It’s very humbling to get them cheering me like that, although I believe it was more for Nathan Hughes coming off because he had a stormer. I was just happy to add and help the team in any way I could.”
Three of the seven tries England scored against Scotland in a record-highest points total for a Calcutta Cup match were plundered by Jonathan Joseph, whose world-class finishing was matched by the speed and accuracy of the build-up to each score.
It was probably the finest attacking display of Jones’ 17 matches in charge, but Joseph has warned England’s rivals that there is more to come.
“I felt we clicked very well as a team. Everything seemed to work from one to 15,” Joseph said.
“That’s what I think this England team’s capable of, but we’ve still got room to improve. That’s just a taster of what this team can do.
“We know what we’re capable of doing when we get it right — the tempo, how it started with the set-piece and the tempo 9-10-12 created.
“It’s very hard to defend when you’re running holes like that. It’s almost impossible if you get it right.”
Wing Elliot Daly has remained with England’s squad as he undergoes the return to play protocols for suspected concussion after being the victim of a tip tackle by Scotland hooker Fraser Brown.
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