Saracens No.8 Billy Vunipola says he won’t take his starring role off the bench in the World Cup opener for granted after securing England a bonus-point 35-11 win against Fiji.
This was by no means a vintage England performance but some of Aviva Premiership Rugby’s brightest stars shone in front of an estimated 450 million viewers in the Twickenham curtain-raiser.
Harlequins full-back Mike Brown deservedly took the plaudits, scoring a try-double as England’s most potent
threat with ball in hand, while Bath Rugby talisman George Ford drilled eight points off the tee.
Replacement Owen Farrell relieved pressure from a spirited Fiji in the second half, the Saracen kicking an important penalty, but Vunipola ensured a perfect night for England with a fourth try at the death.
The bonus point could prove crucial in a so-called ‘Pool of Death’ including Australia and Wales – who England face next – and in Vunipola’s own personal battle with Gloucester Rugby’s Ben Morgan for the No.8 shirt.
But Vunipola said: “It’s more a message to the team that I’m willing to do whatever to help them, whether it’s during the week and training, not sulking – taking things on the chin and moving on.
“I’d rather be starting than not, but it’s just something I need to keep working on.
“I think sometimes it’s easier for the bench to come on because the game’s broken up and we’re a bit fresher than everyone else. A lot of credit has to go to the boys who wore them down.
“I didn’t think my try would be awarded at the time, no. I got up and they pushed the ball off the line. I was in two minds over whether I should recycle the ball or go for the line, if I missed it then it’d probably be game over.
“But someone pushed from behind and I managed to get over.”
There are several areas of concern for England coach Stuart Lancaster ahead of the meeting with Wales next Saturday – not least the set-piece.
England lost three scrums on their own put-in while Fiji were a perfect seven from seven and Vunipola has preached patience to the pack.
“(Their scrum) must have been something they worked on massively, though we prepared for that,” Vunipola added.
“Three times we got caught out with some of the decisions, but a few times we need to be more patient rather than go for the jugular straight from the off. The Fijian boys did that very well, fair play to them.
“The overarching message at half-time was be more direct, the Fijian back-line were very good at drifting off and making the hits on us. We kept passing the ball down the line rather than impacting the gain-line, I think that was the biggest thing when we (the replacements) came on – try and push the team forward rather than sidewards.”