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Mako Vunipola and Jack Nowell made their Rugby World Cup 2019 bows on Saturday, returning from months of injury rehabilitation to justify Eddie Jones’s gamble on taking them to Japan.
But it could have been a very different story for the England pair.
Nowell suffered numerous setbacks in his attempts to recover from ankle surgery following a nasty injury in June’s Premiership final, the biggest of which saw him admitted to hospital for four nights to have his appendix removed during the pre-World Cup training camp in Treviso.
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Similarly, Vunipola feared his World Cup dreams were over when he made his return from hamstring surgery in the warm-up game against Ireland, only to limp off 17 minutes later with a bad feeling in that same thigh.
“I had a fear that that could be it,” said Vunipola, having played 17 minutes once again on his return to the side in the win over Argentina. “I didn’t really know exactly and didn’t understand what had happened.
“I had the scan straight after the game on the Sunday and found out the results on the Sunday afternoon, and then didn’t find out what the specialist said until the Tuesday so there was a bit of waiting around. It was touch and go and the first week was tough.
“When I had the scan and got the results back it wasn’t ideal but luckily the specialist was able to clear it up and I am just happy to be here now and get that game under my belt.”
At least Vunipola has that taste of rugby in August to keep him going, having initially torn his hamstring in May. Nowell never had that, and as the four-month wait for rugby went on, there were certainly some dark times for the Exeter wing.
“I’ve been close to coming back, then I’ve hit a hurdle,” added Nowell. “But for me I’ve always wanted to be here, 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.
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