Jack Nowell and Mako Vunipola admit their successful comebacks against Argentina were made all the sweeter by the fear their World Cup dreams had been ruined by injury.
England became the first team at Japan 2019 to book their place in the quarter-finals after the Pumas were dispatched 39-10 at Tokyo Stadium, where there were second-half appearances for Nowell and Vunipola.
Nowell had not played since starring for Exeter in last season’s Gallagher Premiership final due to ankle surgery and an operation to have his appendix removed and he celebrated his return with a superbly-taken try.
Vunipola played his first rugby since May 11 during the warm-up Test against Ireland but he lasted only 17 minutes after damaging scar tissue on the injury.
“A lot of times I thought I wouldn’t play at the World Cup,” Nowell said.
“I gave myself deadlines and if I didn’t hit them I got pretty upset with myself. I’ve been close to coming back and then I’ve hit a hurdle.
“I had my appendix out just when I thought I was back, but I’ve driven so hard to try to be involved in this World Cup.
“They were just hurdles, something I had to overcome to get myself involved again.”
England head coach Eddie Jones was determined to take Nowell to the first Asian World Cup despite knowing he would miss the opening two games against Tonga and the USA.
England head coach Eddie Jones (right) was determined to take Jack Nowell to the World Cup (Andrew Matthews/PA)
“Being backed by Eddie was important. I could quite easily have been sent home, but they spent a bit of time on me and to be able to give back is very nice,” Nowell said.
For Vunipola, the worst moment was the 48-hour wait to have his scan analysed after he had re-damaged his hamstring in a record win against Ireland at Twickenham.
“I had a fear that that could be it. It was touch and go and the first week was tough,” Vunipola said.
Mako Vunipola made a second-half appearance against Argentina (Ashley Western/PA)
“It was more of a mental challenge than anything else. The physios and medical staff had every confidence I would be ready.
“As players you are very impatient and you want to get out there straight away and when you see the boys going so well in training and in games you want to be a part of that.
“It was about biding my time and just getting ready for whenever I got my chance.
“It was good to be back out there. I felt a bit rusty, almost felt like a deer in the headlights at times, but I’m just happy to get through it. It wasn’t easy at times, but I’m happy.”
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