Mako Vunipola proving doubters wrong on Lions tour
Vunipola has played himself into Warren Gatland's Test plans with a run of fine performances
A year ago Mako Vunipola had endured a frustrating season with Saracens, metatarsal and hamstring injuries had limited him to just 11 appearances and he had yet to make a Premiership start.
Fast forward 12 months and Vunipola now finds himself firmly in Warren Gatland's plans for the British and Irish Lions test team against Australia.
Injuries to Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins has given Vunipola an opportunity that he has grabbed with both hands.
Vunipola has been involved in three out of four of the Lions matches so far, victories over the Barbarians, Western Force and Queensland Reds and after racking up 163 minutes playing time, has been on the pitch longer than any other player in the squad.
Vunipola's work in the loose is what stands him out from other props. There are few forwards in world rugby who have an offload game like his and worries over his work at scrum time seem to have been put to bed.
The match against Combined Country was be the first Vunipola wasn't involved in and gave his rivals for a Test spot.
However, the Country front row had only a single Super Rugby appearance between them and Corbisiero and Grant, both renowned as strong scrummagers, were expected to dominate at scrum time thus making it more difficult for them to impress.
Vunipola has even grabbed himself a try on this tour, notching against Western Force in the comfortable Lions victory as well as making seven carries and beating four defenders in an impressive performance.
Australia have been perceived as having a weakness in the front row, perhaps due to the Andrew Sheridan inspired pummelling they have received from the English this Millennium, which could help Vunipola's case even further.
With Australia not putting up much of a threat at scrum time and with world-class scrummager Adam Jones most likely alongside him, it could be argued that Vunipola's skills in the loose and all round impact could be more important to the test team than a strong scrummager like Corbisiero or Grant.
Fitness has been a question mark during Vunipola's short career but Vunipola has shown his ability to get around the field is fine and, if he starts the first test, will likely be replaced around the 50-60 minute mark anyway.
Some believe that Vunipola would, however, be best utilised as an impact sub, coming on and smashing through tired Aussies, certainly a role he has filled for England, with six of his seven caps coming from the replacements bench.
Whether Gatland agrees or not is yet to be seen but there is no doubt that Vunipola has an important role to play in this test series and, at just 22 years old, has a big future ahead of him.
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