Vunipola backs England to bolster self-belief in time for World Cup


London (AFP)

Billy Vunipola believes England's players themselves hold the key to restoring their self-belief ahead of the World Cup, despite coach Eddie Jones's plans to bring in specialist help before the tournament starts in September.

England let slip a 31-point lead against Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday before needing an injury-time try from replacement fly-half George Ford to end their Six Nations campaign with a 38-38 draw.

They also squandered a lead in a defeat by eventual Grand Slam champions Wales, leading to questions about their mental resolve ahead of the World Cup.

Jones said after Saturday's match he intended to call in specialist assistance but Vunipola, in an interview with Tuesday's London Evening Standard, said: "Look, it's just another way to see if we can try and improve. I am never against it, but I think a lot of it comes down to real belief in your own abilities.

"I think the Scottish game was an anomaly. I know a lot of people point fingers and say that we are weak mentally, but I don't buy into that.

"It is not like we have never won a Grand Slam."

Vunipola, also a key figure with English champions Saracens, added: "It comes down to how cool you can stay under pressure. That is why we love people that are successful, because it is hard to be that guy. It is hard to be a Roger Federer.

"There is a lot of freshness to our team, especially from two years ago, and there have been some teething problems. (Success) will come."

The 26-year-old said teams needed to suffer setbacks before they achieved success, citing his experience with Saracens.

"We as a club are a good example of that. I can't tell you how many finals we have lost. We lost semis, quarters too, and it made us think: we can actually do this."

- New Zealand hurt -

Double defending champions New Zealand suffered repeated World Cup heartbreak between triumphing at the inaugural 1987 edition and lifting the trophy again in 2011, with Vunipola saying: "You think about New Zealand, the amount of hurt they went through before winning two World Cups on the trot.

"How did they do that? Well, they didn't do it overnight."

England have won the World Cup just once, in 2003, when Clive Woodward's side triumphed in Australia after completing a Six Nations Grand Slam.

But Vunipola said it would not hurt if expectations were lowered, particularly compared to 2015 when World Cup hosts England crashed out in the first round.

"It is probably better that we go in under the radar rather than what we did last time," he explained. "We thought we were going to do really well then -- and remember what happened then.

"What we have got to do is keep our head down, keep working hard and keep enjoying the process. Nothing needs to change, we just need to believe in ourselves."