Australia v British & Irish Lions, Melbourne, June 29
Mako Vunipola out to spoil Ben Alexander's party
June 29, 2013
Prop Mako Vunipola will be looking to make his first Lions start one to remember © PA Photos
It is a classic "pupil v master" match-up in the front row with both players desperately keen to come out on top. For Alexander, there is the desire to take the battle for the Tom Richards Cup to a Sydney decider next week, while Vunipola wants to celebrate his first start for the Lions by helping to make history.
The 22-year-old Saracens loose head came on as a replacement in the Lions' 23-21 victory in the opening Test in Brisbane and almost gave the game away when he was penalised at the final scrum. Luckily for him, Kurtley Beale slipped and pushed his penalty kick wide.
With Alex Corbisiero becoming the third loose-head prop to suffer an injury, Vunipola has been asked to step into the firing line from the start less than a year after making his club and international debut.
"It's happened really quickly for me. This time last year I was back home just relaxing. To be here now is beyond my wildest dreams," said Vunipola, who could have played for New Zealand, Tonga, Wales or England. "There's been a lot of work done behind the scenes. I've been really lucky with the chances I've been given and lucky to impress the coaches.
"It's definitely the ultimate reward. As a player, it's the highest honour to represent the Lions, the best of the four countries, the elite. To be starting for them on Saturday is the highest honour and I just feel really privileged. The whole squad knows what this game means. You saw on Tuesday the boys (against the Melbourne Rebels) that weren't in the 23 trying to push for that Test spot. They played really well and gave the coaches a hard time. Brian O'Driscoll said it after the Brisbane game, 'this is a massive chance now for us to make history'."
Jonny Sexton says the Lions are motivated to make the most of their chances in the second Test
Vunipola has made five appearances for the Lions on tour to date and his ability around the field earned him a place on the bench in Brisbane as an impact player. Now he has the responsibility of keeping the Lions scrum strong and as big a weapon as it was in the first half last weekend.
"To be named in a starting team is an honour in itself, but to represent the Lions is the biggest thing," said Vunipola. "It was a bit heart in mouth, really last weekend. Before that penalty even, when Kurtley Beale missed his first one, I was a bit nervous watching that one as well. To have two kicks missed, hopefully it's a good sign that there's a bit of luck on our side. We're looking forward to this weekend and to making sure they don't get a chance like that again.
"The three boys that came on, me, Hibbs (Richard Hibbard) and Coley (Dan Cole), all felt disappointed with how the scrums went. The penalty they got at the end, we all knew it was our fault. The Aussies got a bit of confidence in their scrum. The players they brought on had a massive impact. (Sekope) Kepu came on and he's a strong scrummager. They added a bit of impetus for them and we didn't stick to our drills and the things that we do well. As a young prop, the main thing is experience. Experience shows in the front row especially. They've got a few veterans up there in the front row. Hopefully we'll learn from it and, this week, come out different."