Owen Farrell reflected on England’s crushing 57-15 victory over Ireland that saw records tumble at Twickenham by declaring the best is yet to come.
A stunning triumph in the third of four World Cup warm-up Tests signalled that Eddie Jones’ men are genuine title contenders when the global showpiece opens in Tokyo on September 20.
Awful Ireland leaked eight tries – their highest against England – and also collapsed to their heaviest defeat and conceded the largest number of points against their Six Nations rivals.
“It felt good. It’s a step in the right direction. The most pleasing thing is that our best stuff is still in front of us,” captain Farrell said.
“We feel like we are going in the right direction and are building towards something. This is another step along. It feels like there is a lot more in us.”
Lions centre Manu Tuilagi was named man of the match after a blockbusting display notable for a series of rampaging runs to which Ireland’s feeble defence had no answer.
“Manu’s in a good place, he’s got a smile on his face. He makes coffee for everyone every day except me so I’ve got to put my order in a bit earlier,” head coach Eddie Jones said.
“He’s getting fitter. He’s about 80 per cent fit at the moment – we’ve still got a little bit left to go with him and when he gets there he’ll be a handful.
“One of his greatest attributes is people like to play with him. It’s scary if you have to mark him.”
The only cloud over the performance was Mako Vunipola’s departure near the end with a recurrence of a hamstring injury.
Vunipola was making his return after four months on the sidelines but his appearance in the second half lasted just 17 minutes.
“Mako just got bit of a twinge and it was more of a precaution to take him off. Obviously he’ll be investigated fully,” Jones said.
Eddie Jones believes “Kamikaze kids” Tom Curry and Sam Underhill can make the difference for England at the World Cup.
Head coach Jones hopes to field twin openside flanker threats Curry and Underhill in the same back row on Saturday when England host Ireland at Twickenham.
The wily Australian boss wanted to pair up the natural scavengers in the first warm-up match against Wales, but injuries derailed that plan.
Jones believes the ball-hunting duo could hand England a World Cup edge if the Japan tournament revolves around the breakdown and cannot wait to see the destructive pair in action.
“They are like the Kamikaze kids those two,” said Jones.
“Playing two guys who are pretty good at the breakdown might give us an advantage in that area.
“They hit everything. They hit everything that moves. But off the pitch they’re nice public schoolboys.
“We wanted to try it in the first game against Wales. That was the first time they were available to do it.
“In Curry, what I see on the training pitch is a guy who is progressing rapidly.
“Physically, for a 20-year-old, he is incredible. I haven’t seen a player like him.
“He’s strong, fast, he’s got aggressive attitude and he wants to learn. He’s going to get better and better every day.
“If it’s going to be two people over the ball every breakdown we want to be able to do the same thing.
“We’re asking, ‘Is this a strategic (refereeing) move by World Rugby for the World Cup?’ And the answer is, ‘We don’t know’.
“We’ll just have to adapt and find out.
“What we want to be able to do is pick teams who can cope with this.
“You’ve just got to see what’s happening in the game, the number of kicks.
“Why are people kicking the ball more? Because you can’t get fast ball.
“So you’ve got to work out why you can’t get fast ball.”
Bath flanker Underhill accepted Jones’ “Kamikaze kid” nickname for the clear compliment intended, hoping he and Curry can emulate the kind of impact David Pocock and Michael Hooper can boast for Australia.
“I resent being thrown into that category with Tom – he has injured far more people in training than I have, he’s a nutter!” joked Underhill.
“I am glad I am on the same side of him for training.
“But a healthy disregard for your own well-being is pretty essential if you are playing rugby in general, so I will take that as a compliment.
“Australia and Wales are big into it too, Ireland have done it with Dan Leavy and Josh Van Der Flier.
“You are getting to a point where you are not really a six or seven, you’re a flanker, a back-rower.
“I have played against teams with two sevens and it is just a different dynamic and a different sort of contest.”
Sale grafter Curry admitted he cannot wait to pair up with Underhill in the same England back row.
“It’s really exciting, whenever you get to play with someone that talented is pretty exciting anyway, let alone at six and seven,” said Curry.
“Obviously it’s new, we’ve been practising it for a few weeks in training, it has been going well.
“We have to make sure we can learn and adapt in the game as well because obviously it is the first time – get to know each other and see how each other works.”
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Manu Tuilagi has admitted hiding the early stages of the groin injury that almost ended his career back in 2014.
The England centre revealed he strapped himself up in secret and played through the pain for five games, keeping the injury from Leicester’s physios and coaches.
Tuilagi was applying tape to his groin and pubic bone like a belt until he felt a “loud pop” in a European match against Ulster that left him unable to walk.
The Samoa-born powerhouse won just two caps between 2014 and 2019 amid a catalogue of setbacks, and he even sought the services of a witch doctor to help end his injury curse.
Now fully fit and itching to flex his muscles as England inch toward the World Cup, the 28-year-old laid bare his folly in ignoring his body’s natural warning signs some five years ago.
“You just think, ‘I am never going to get injured’, even if it hurts you think, ‘I will be alright’; that is a lesson,” said Tuilagi.
“With my groin, I played five games with it being really painful. It was stupid.
“It was the start of the season in 2014. I pulled my adductor but I had no idea what an adductor felt like if you pulled it.
“I did it on the Thursday, played on the Saturday and strapped it up. I played five games with it and it went higher and higher into my groin.
“At one stage I started strapping my pubis. The physio was like, ‘What are you doing?’, I said, ‘Er, nothing’.
“I started strapping my pubis, which was just stupid. In the fifth game, I got the ball in the first 20 minutes, went to accelerate and bang, there was a pop, a loud pop and I just couldn’t walk.
“I had pretty much dislocated my pubic bone. I guess I wasn’t honest with the physios, but also I didn’t really know what it was. I didn’t tell the physios. I would say, ‘It is a bit sore’.
“It got to that point where you are running and trying to just take the pain.
“With injuries, you have to be honest. That is the best because if you’re not honest with the physio they don’t know how to treat you. That’s the biggest thing, trying to be honest as much as possible.”
Tuilagi could have almost doubled his 34 England caps but for his horrid run of injuries across the last five years.
The battering-ram centre tries not to dwell too much on those lost opportunities but is keen for others to heed this cautionary tale.
Asked how different the last five years could have been, Tuilagi said: “I ask that myself at times but I don’t regret anything. Whatever happened there has got me here now. Of course, it would have been different.”
Tuilagi now swears by regular meetings with Leicester’s sports psychologist and a more mindful warm-up routine, hoping both can pay a dividend at next month’s World Cup in Japan.
“We have a psychologist that comes into Tigers, he comes in every couple of months and I have about half an hour with him just speaking to him about how you get your body ready and rugby in general,” said Tuilagi.
“We talk about my game and that; that really helps me. The warm-up is important in terms of my mind and body. I need to get my mind right to go into contact but also knowing that my body is 100 per cent ready for it, especially now the game is so physical.
“I guess I take more time warming up and just go through the drills so that when I am going into training I can pretty much go full speed.
“Some things you can play through with pain, but if your body cannot function mechanically, that’s the big problem.
“I love being here with England now though, especially with this group of players. It’s something special that is happening here and for me, just being part of that is unbelievable.”