England’s ability to control the game and see out the win is a sure sign of their improvement according to Billy Vunipola, following an impressive victory over Wales.
Unbeaten since February 2018 – a run of 14 matches – and having named the same starting back-line that clinched the 2019 Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam against Ireland in March, Wales were arguably favourites heading into the World Cup warm-up match at Twickenham.
But England struck early through Vunipola and Joe Cokanasiga before Luke Cowan-Dickie’s try gave them a 21-7 half-time lead and despite the visitors roaring back after the break, the boot of George Ford and controlling play of the forwards clinched a 33-19 triumph.
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The ability to manage the contest was in stark contrast to England’s final game of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations – where they blew a 31-point lead and needed a late try to snatch a draw against Scotland.
So back-rower Vunipola, whose performance at Twickenham was a tour de force, was understandably ecstatic at his side’s efficiency.
“That’s something we’ve been working on especially since the Six Nations,” said Vunipola. “That Scotland game is still a bit vivid in some of our brains – we got a bit loose.
“This was the perfect example of a game which could have got away from us but we stayed in the fight and came out with a win.
“You can see that our forwards are big players, so having a structured game probably suits us more than an unstructured game.
“For most of the game we stuck to it but there were times where Wales crept into it. Wales are a great side though, so that is always going to happen. The most pleasing thing was we stayed on top of it and didn’t lose control of it.
“You can never read too much into these warm-up games though. They are Tests but we know Wales perform to peak level under pressure. We played well in patches but there is still room for improvement.”
Vunipola was one of the more senior heads in a largely experimental England line-up, as fellow back-rower Lewis Ludlam – who was visibly emotional during the pre-match national anthem – and scrum-half Willi Heinz both made their international debuts.
And the 26-year-old claims the fresh faces in camp have helped bring the best out of the veterans.
“Some of the young players probably gave me goosebumps – seeing Luds’ (Lewis Ludlam’s) tears at the start,” added Vunipola.
“When you play quite often you forget that and maybe take it for granted, so to see that motivates us a lot of us and excites a lot of us.
“It’s awesome to have them around and the energy they bring every day is contagious. Hopefully they can keep bringing that, I can bring that and we’ll keep moving forward.”