Vunipola told to fight for his place in and England squad bound by togetherness
Mako Vunipola has been warned he must fight to reclaim his front-row spot as England face the first true test of the squad cohesion carefully constructed for their pursuit of the World Cup.
Vunipola has recovered from a hamstring injury and along with wing Jack Nowell, who has trained fully after a summer spent overcoming ankle surgery, is expected to be available for next Saturday’s clash with Argentina in Tokyo.
Their return will give Eddie Jones a fully-fit 31-man squad from which to select, although Piers Francis’ citing for a dangerous tackle against the USA could reduce that number for disciplinary reasons.
A date for Francis’ hearing has yet to be set but it will take place in Tokyo where the Northampton centre is likely to be hit with a three-week suspension, potentially ending his tournament.
As the game’s foremost loosehead prop, Vunipola would be among the first names on the team-sheet but with Joe Marler and Ellis Genge having performed well against Tonga and the USA in his absence, attack coach Scott Wisemantel insists his selection is not a forgone conclusion.
And now that all players in the squad are competing for starts in the critical Pool C games against Argentina and France, Wisemantel knows there will be a challenge to harmony within English ranks.
“This puts a test on togetherness, but togetherness is one of our themes and the players acknowledge it, they openly talk about it,” Wisemantel said.
“It’s a team of 31. Socially they hang out and then when they’re on the field they compete and they compete hard.
“We want that competition for places so that whether they’re in the 23 or not they’re competing, they’re not just here as passengers.
“Mako gives us something with his ball carrying and energy around the park, but the way the boys are going, he’s going to find it hard to get back into the team selection-wise.
“Mako’s got to compete. If we’re going to be consistent with the team of 31 and the mantra of it, you have to fight to get back in.
“We know what he can do. He has kudos, a proven track record but at the same time he has got to prove that he is fully fit and ready to go.
“You just don’t walk straight back into the team, you actually have to fight to get back in. It’s good and it’s healthy competition.
Wisemantel has revealed that England have a mechanism for dealing with any conflicts when they arising, illustrating the process through the exchange of words between Elliot Daly and Henry Slade late on against Tonga.
An opening had been forced down the left but Slade’s final pass went behind Daly and each clearly blamed the other for the mistake.
“The players know the boundaries. When it’s on the field it’s game on and when it’s off it, if there’s an issue you’ve got to get it sorted and get it sorted quickly,” Wisemantel said.
“It’s that simple and the framework and the time that we’ve spent together has actually made it real because we’ve been together for a long time.
“If we’re competing and we’re competing hard and you’re not happy with what I’ve done or I’m not happy with what you’ve done, then we actually sort it out afterwards like ‘mate, don’t do that, what were you thinking?’. It’s real simple.
“There’s been a little bit. It’s good because it creates electricity. An example would be from the Tonga game.
“On the field there was a miscommunication between Henry and Elliot and then straight afterwards they sorted it. I thought it was brilliant.
“They ripped into each other, ‘I want you here, I need you here’. We’re talking wants and needs. They sorted it and they sorted it very quickly. Brilliant.”