Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Vunipola looks poised for Test spot

Mako Vunipola could line-up at loose-head prop in the first Test

Mako Vunipola looks set to complete a remarkable eight-month rise from international rookie to British and Irish Lions Test prop next week.

The Saracens forward will pack down against New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday as part of what could be Lions head coach Warren Gatland's pack for a first Test showdown with Australia seven days later.

The forward unit this weekend - Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones, Paul O'Connell, Tom Croft, Sam Warburton and Jamie Heaslip - has a distinct Test match feel about it.

And no one could accuse 22-year-old Vunipola of not taking his opportunity.

He has proved a pillar of strength for Gatland so far on tour, especially with Vunipola's fellow looseheads Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins now back home after being sidelined due to injuries.

Vunipola only made his England debut last November, yet consistency and maturity have highlighted the New Zealand-born prop's performances Down Under, building impressively towards a likely Lions Test debut in Brisbane.

"Every chance you get to pull on the red Lions jersey is a chance to play for the Test side. This game on Saturday is no different, you just go out there and play the same game," he said.

"I have been pleased to get three games in a row. I've had more chances than most players. The coaches seem happy with what I am doing so far, but obviously, there is still room to improve and I need a good performance on Saturday.

"Every player wants to be in the Tests. I knew with Gethin and Cian here, two solid Test props, that I had my work cut out. I knew I would have to work hard to push for the Test team.

"Working with Graham Rowntree (Lions and England forwards coach) has been helpful here - he has been a mentor for me since I was 18 - and being out here also with class players you can't help but learn off them."

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