TOKYO, 29 Oct - For any Springboks threatening to bully their way to the Rugby World Cup title, England's Billy Vunipola has a simple message: "Bring it on."
South Africa ground their way to victory in their their semi-final arm-wrestle with Wales and have warned they are ready to make the final at International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday an intensely physical battle.
But, fresh from England's comprehensive victory over the All Blacks, number eight Vunipola is not in the mood to give any ground to the Boks.
"They are very big people but then again we have a few big blokes on our team," he said on Tuesday. "They have already come out and said they want to fight fire with fire and I guess we return it by saying, ‘Bring it on’. It is a final and one of those things you have to front up to and one of their biggest assets and something we have been working on.
"The All Blacks have been the best in the world for ever and that physicality has helped them get to that stage. We set out wanting to be the best in the world, and we have to back up what we did last week. It can’t just be a fluke. I think the challenge has been laid out by South Africa - as you saw them taking Japan apart, and Wales - the challenge is going to be up front so we are going to have to be there, both mentally and physically.”
For Vunipola, one of England’s key ball carriers, that means matching the challenge posed by his opposite number Duane Vermeulen who, he acknowledges, got the upper hand in their most recent meetings.
”He just played better and it’s something I think about in terms of trying to help my team as much as possible. I guess he comes into that equation because he’s such a big player for them. I played against him last summer and he was monumental in terms of getting them those two victories. Not just myself, but we’ve got to try and negate the influence of him and everyone else around him. They’ve got massive threats across the park.”
Vunipola is keen to emulate the massive tackles made by his back-row partners Tom Curry and Sam Underhill which knocked New Zealand back and gave the England team such a lift in their semi-final.
“It’s something that you probably can't measure, but I think the best way to explain it is that it's quite contagious.
"It shows everyone it can be done, so everyone else tries to follow in the slipstreams of Sam Underhill, Tom Curry and Maro Itoje. It's very easy when you see it. A lot of people talk about it and it's easy to sit here and say we want to be brutal, but you have to back those words up and those guys are probably the best at leading that area.
“We want to play our best, we want to peak at the end of the tournament not the start. South Africa is our next biggest challenge. Our goal was always to be No.1 so we are just going to try to prepare as well as we can.”