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Baggage unpacked, England intent on making amends for 2015

TOKYO (AP) — The England players had to unload a lot of baggage and bring in a new coach to get over the bitter disappointment four years ago of becoming the first host of the Rugby World Cup to be eliminated in the pool stage.

No. 8 Billy Vunipola said a bit of therapy, with psychologist Corinne Reid, and new coach Eddie Jones had helped them get over the emotional pain and focus on making it right at the 2019 edition in Japan.

"Men don't know how to talk about their feelings. It took us a while, but we got there in the end," Vunipola said of the sessions with Reid. "Being brutally honest can hurt a few feelings (but) it was really good (Reid) gave us the platform to do it.".

Jones was the head coach of Japan at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, when he masterminded the biggest upset in the tournament's history with a victory over two-time champion South Africa in Brighton. South Africa recovered to reach the semifinals. England, the 2003 champion, failed to reach the knockout round from a tough pool containing two-time winner Australia and Wales.

Vunipola, born in Australia into a family of Tongan international rugby players, qualified for England by residency and made his debut in 2013. He was set to play a big role in the 2015 World Cup but injured his knee in the group-stage loss to Wales and was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament.

Jones, who was head coach when Australia lost the 2003 Rugby World Cup final in extra-time to England, and was a consultant with South Africa when the Springboks beat England for the title in '07, is now at the helm of English rugby.

The straight-talking Australian puts a major emphasis on the squad being more important than individuals, and the England players are buying into it. "Eddie has definitely got the baggage out," said Vunipola, who has started 11 tests this year at No. 8. "It was something that was very important to us, and it has probably freed us up a lot in terms of our relationships."

Vunipola said the respect within the England squad was "on a different level to any England side I've previously been involved with," and was translating onto the field. "We've talked about things we've never previously been able to put out there as a group and it's brought us closer together," he said. "There is a lot more respect in that changing room for each other and it's been really fun."

England opened with a 35-3 win over Tonga and a 45-7 win over the United States, and now faces two-time semifinalists Argentina on Saturday in Pool C. Argentina is playing for survival after opening with a loss against France. Only the top two teams in each group advance to the knockout stage, and No. 3-ranked England is favored to top Pool C.

"Our destiny is in our own hands still and we have to put down a marker, not for anyone else but for ourselves as a team," Vunipola said. "We have talked a lot about it, but talking is different to doing." ___

More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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