Mako Vunipola is playing with the power and confidence of a man who has silenced his critics and believes there is even more to come from England’s first choice loose head prop.
With Joe Marler having stood down from the summer tour of Australia and hampered by concussion this season, the Saracens prop has cemented his position as Eddie Jones’s starting loose head leading into the four Autumn tests with Australia, Argentina, Fiji and South Africa.
While brother Billy has been getting more of the headlines for his ball carrying and improved defensive work, Mako has been quietly improving his own rugby CV.
The 25-year-old will be a key forward for the Lions in New Zealand next summer having made the test team during the 2013 series triumph over Australia despite plenty of flak for perceived technical weaknesses at the scrum. Now, the doubters have been silenced and Vunipola is understandably proud of how he rose to the challenge.
The 35-times capped prop told The Rugby Paper,“I really enjoy the scrum battle and there were times when people were questioning my ability to do that at the highest level and I was very lucky to have family, friends and team mates around me at that time to help me through it. That was a tough battle and I am still learning now and as a young prop you need to go through that even though it was hard to deal with at the time.
“You need the self-belief that you can play at test level and hold your own. I am happy with how I am playing now.
“Props are not marked on how many balls they carry, it’s about they deal with their jobs in the scrum, line out and around the pitch. If I can’t get that right then the other stuff doesn’t really count. I still feel I can get better.”
Wasps Matt Mullan is also pressing for more England caps under Jones and Vunipola knows he cannot afford to let his performance level dip with Marler also desperate to make up for lost time. That means keeping double champions Sarries in the Premiership title mix by taking care Wasps on October 9 and then Toulon away in the opening European Champions Cup pool clash on October 15.
“The Premiership is much more competitive and Wasps are playing really well – some great rugby;”added Vunipola.”The match with Northampton was up there with some of the hardest games I have played in and that is what you want from your local rivals.
“It’s been a tough start in Premiership and recovery is important after those kind of physical games. We have some great back room staff who look after us and we do have ice baths but I prefer to use our cryotherapy because you don’t get wet! I am also a bit old school and like to let the body heal itself.
“You cannot afford to think too far ahead in a Lions season and you have to focus on what is the next game. It’s about staying in the present, play well for your club, get picked for the internationals and hope that you perform .”
As seen in The Rugby Paper