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England happy to be public enemy number one against Fiji, says Billy Vunipola

England's flanker Billy Vunipola takes part during a training session at Stade Georges-Carcassone in Aix-en-Provence on Tuesday

England's flanker Billy Vunipola takes part during a training session at Stade Georges-Carcassone in Aix-en-Provence on Tuesday. Photo: Nicolas Tucat/AFP

Published Oct 10, 2023


England are more than happy to assume the role of public enemy number one when they take on Fiji in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals in Marseille on Sunday, veteran Billy Vunipola said Tuesday.

England have been very well supported by their travelling fans for the tournament in France, but that has left the neutrals filling the stadiums cheering for any team playing the English.

Nothing new about that, insisted Vunipola, who had to sit out the team's opening pool victory over Argentina as he was serving a high-tackle ban.

"I wouldn't say Fiji are the second favourite team, I'd say England are the first least favourite team," Vunipola said.

"In terms of being public enemy number one, we're happy to take that mantle."

England assistant coach Richard Wigglesworth said there had only been "glimpses" of what the team wanted to achieve in the narrow 18-17 victory over Samoa that wrapped up pool play.

"There was definitely not enough of the good stuff," said the former scrum-half who played alongside Vunipola at Saracens.

'A game we want'

In their final warm-up match before the World Cup, England registered a historic first loss to Fiji, going down 30-22 at Twickenham.

But Wigglesworth insisted that a clash with the Pacific Islanders in knock-out rugby was more than you could ask for.

"This is a game we want," he said.

"It's a brilliant test for us to go against a team that beat us pre-World Cup when we were written off."

Vunipola added that there was "definitely an edge in training".

"There's the added pressure this week that if we don't nail them we're going home," he said.

Whether Vunipola plays or not is another thing, having seemingly fallen behind Saracens teammate Ben Earl in the pecking order at the back of the scrum.

Having sat out the World Cup opener because of his ban, Vunipola came on as a replacement for Lewis Ludlam in the 51st minute of the 34-12 victory over Japan.

He then started in England's facile 71-0 win over minnows Chile, lasting 67 minutes before being hooked.

The No 8 was then used again as a replacement against Samoa, coming on for Tom Curry for the final six minutes.

"If I'm being honest, I would liked to have played some more games," said the 30-year-old born in Australia to Tongan parents who qualified for England on residency after moving to Britain as a child.

"But saying that, the team I'm playing for are in the quarter-finals so I'm happy to be involved."