BILLY VUNIPOLA says England are ready to have the last laugh as they aim to complete an historic grand slam on the way to usurping New Zealand as the world’s number one side.
After three months out following knee surgery, the Saracens No 8 made a successful international comeback with an impressive try-scoring stint off the bench in Saturday’s 61-21 victory over Scotland.
That secured the Red Rose back-to-back Six Nations titles but their appetite is not sated; they now aim to become the first England side to achieve successive grand slams since Will Carling’s in 1992.
They face Ireland in Dublin this Saturday knowing a 19th successive Test win would also eclipse the All Blacks’ world-record that was equalled at Twickenham.
England coach Eddie Jones says his players – who had embarrassingly failed to exit the World Cup pool stages when he took over at the end of 2015 – will “achieve greatness” if they do earn consecutive slams.
Vunipola agreed: “Yes, for sure. 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.
“With the relentless pressure we have from the top, I’m sure tomorrow we will be back on it.”
On the potential world record, the 24-year-old said: “It all joins up; if you win 19 games on the trot you are pushing it.
“We know we’re not No 1 yet but we want to do things within our power to show we are serious about this goal.”
England have a history of falling short when chasing grand slams in Dublin and Ireland, having seen their title hopes end with a surprise loss at Wales on Friday, are expected to rally.
Vunipola added: “I’d probably say it is more mental than physical because we have never been in this position before when we can push further on.
“Look, it is a big occasion next week. It is the day after St Patrick’s Day, it’s going to be very, very emotional so we are going to have to turn up with the right mindset to try to negate everything they are going to bring on. We have to try to impose the game plan that we have and, personally, I’m just glad to be back playing.”
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.England’s Billy Vunipola