All Blacks invincibility punctured - Vunipola

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    28 Dec 2018     Getty Images

While the All Blacks are building in their own way towards the Japan event next year, Vunipola believes the gap between New Zealand and the rest has reduced with the All Blacks also having lost their tag of invincibility.

"The gap is closing with New Zealand, but it's not just about them, you can see how every game internationally between the big teams is a proper contest," he told The Rugby Paper.

"That's what you want.

"New Zealand are still World Cup favourites because they still have that experience of being No.1 and they're still the team to chase, but England competed well and you can see how Ireland have consistently challenged them," he said.

"Ireland have beaten New Zealand twice in the last couple of years and shown that they are human.

"Although it's still a very big task, England proved they can go toe-to-toe with them as well and we can improve again between now and the World Cup," he said.

England had endured a tough 2018, he said. They finished fifth in the Six Nations and then lost their June series with South Africa 1-2. They had lifted in the November internationals to win three of their four games with their only loss being to the All Blacks.

"The boys did really well in November. There was obviously a bit of talk about how previous results had gone but for me it looked like a new team out there," he said.

"It looked like they played with freedom and you could see an identity coming as well. That was the pleasing thing and also, for me being on the outside of it, it was exciting as well because you want to be part of it and know that's going to be a challenge," he said.