Mako Vunipola says England have learned the hard way not to underestimate Japan

Mako Vunipola admits the end of Alex Lozowski’s England career following a mistake against Japan serves as a vivid reminder of the danger in underestimating Saturday’s opponents.

Four years ago Lozowski missed a tackle on opposite number Ryoto Nakamura and Eddie Jones reacted by replacing the Saracens centre at half-time and never picking him again.

The last meeting between the nations came to be known among players as the ‘Black Hole Game’ after Zach Mercer also won his last cap and Danny Care was forced into four years of international exile that only ended against Australia in July.

Alex Lozowski (right) won the last of his five caps in 2018 after being dropped by Eddie Jones (left)
Alex Lozowski (right) won the last of his five caps in 2018 after being dropped by Eddie Jones (left) (Adam/Davy/PA

England trailed 15-10 at half-time and during the interval Care and Jones had a row in response to an abject 40 minutes that was ultimately rescued with the introduction of Owen Farrell.

When asked if the fate of club colleague Lozowski is evidence of the pitfalls awaiting against Japan, Vunipola replied: “It is. It was tough on Alex and you feel for him.

“Alex has bounced back for Saracens, but it’s a reminder that it’s a privilege to be here. It’s a choice that we’re here and it’s not a given.

“It’s down to Eddie who he picks and we have got to go out there and do our best for the team.

Jack Nowell says England underestimated Japan the last time they played
Jack Nowell says England underestimated Japan the last time they played (Ben Whitley/PA)

“I didn’t play in that Japan game but I watched it and I remember there was certainly an expectation that we’d just turn up and everything’s just going to click.

“But Japan are a team who you have to respect because of what they’ve done in World Cups and they’ve built on that.”

Jack Nowell formed a centre partnership with Lozowski on that day – it was his only international outing in the 13 jersey – and he recalls that England were guilty of taking the Brave Blossoms too lightly.

Japan were transformed under Jones’ guidance, just missing out on a place in the 2015 World Cup quarter-finals, and Jamie Joseph has built on the foundations laid by his predecessor by steering them into the knockout phase four years later.

It is a fixture laced with danger and Nowell insists the attitude must be right after the Autumn Nations Series opened with a 30-29 defeat by Argentina.

“We know we didn’t give Japan the respect they deserved last time we played them at home. A few boys got a few bits wrong,” Nowell said.

“Very much during that week we were saying the right things, we just didn’t do it on the field.

“Maybe some of the players who got the nod didn’t give the game the respect it deserved, or maybe us as a team didn’t.

“Learning from those lessons from four years ago, we’re not going to go into this game with the same sort of mindset.

“We’re treating this as a proper Test match for us and obviously we want a reaction from the Argentina game as well.”