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England will battle Fiji for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals on Sunday and Billy Vunipola expects his side to be “public enemy number one”. Fiji, who have won over many neutrals with their attacking style of rugby, will again be the underdogs in France. But Vunipola believes public opinion will side with Fiji because England is everyone’s “most hated team”.

England are happy to be “public enemy No. 1” in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final against the neutrals’ darling Fiji, says Billy Vunipola.

The Flying Fijians have earned scores of fans from outside their own country thanks to their entertaining, free-flowing and physical style of rugby.

After knocking out Australia in the pool stage, the Pacific Islanders are up against 2019 runners-up England and are expected to win the backing of most of the rugby world outside English borders.

But speaking in the week of the match, England number eight Vunipola was relishing the situation and rubbished the notion that Fiji are everyone’s second-favourite team.

“I would not say Fiji is their second-favourite, I would say England is their first least-favourite team,” said Vunipola.

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“In terms of being public enemy No. 1, we are happy to take that mantle.”

A lopsided draw at the World Cup this year, made two-and-a-half years before the tournament began, meant that the top five-ranked sides in the world were all grouped in Pools A and B.

England were therefore given an easier route to the quarter-finals, topping Pool D ahead of Argentina, Japan, Samoa and Chile.

But Vunipola disagreed that there is a gap between the quarter-finalists on the other side of the draw – the world’s top four sides Ireland, South Africa, France and New Zealand – and the rest.

Vunipola: England ready to play villain

“You see a lot of teams getting talked up. Apparently, there is a top four now in international rugby,” Vunipola said.

“I didn’t know there was a table but we are quietly and confidently going about our work. Our plan is to play well against Fiji and then deal with whatever happens after that, but Fiji is our main threat.”

Vunipola may well have to settle for a place on the bench against Fiji, having been suspended for the opening game against Argentina and subsequently snubbed for Ben Earl against Japan and Samoa, starting only in the resounding win over Chile.

“Being honest, I’d like to have played some more games but in saying that, the team I am playing for is in the quarter-finals,” he said.

“I’m happy to be involved, happy to add in any way I can both in and off the pitch and if that means we get through to the next round then so be it. But in terms of my contribution, I’m just trying to give as much as I can anywhere that I can.

“I’d be lying if I said (not starting) it was easy but what makes it better is that I know the team is doing well and that is the most important thing, the team progressing, and we are in the quarter-finals.

Winning is the most important thing to me. I could easily fly home and play 80 minutes every week, but I’d rather be on a winning team that is in the quarterfinals. I’m happy to be a part of it, even if I don’t play every minute.

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