England and Saracen’s front-rower Mako Vunipola has taken a tongue-in-cheek swipe at moaning backs. The prop is preparing to play in this Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership final at Twickenham, a match where he is expected to start with Leicester’s Dan Cole as his direct opponent in the scrum.
The final appearance comes after Saracens initially received quite an examination from the Harlequins set-piece in last Saturday’s semi-final and the toll that winning that match took on Vunipola was still being felt in midweek.
Asked what were the lingering aches and pains as he gets through his Saracens training schedule at Saracens to ensure he is ready to take on the Tigers, Vunipola explained: “The usual, the neck always. Shoulders, back. It actually makes me laugh when I hear some of these backs say that they have got a sore back. I’d love to let them feel the same thing we have sometimes. Just the usual, neck, back, shoulders.
“We reviewed what happened at the weekend, looked at what things we can improve and we have got the right people around us here and the players understand we need to start better. Eventually, in that game, the scrum gave us that platform that we needed to see the game out. We have just got to start better now. Credit to Quins, they are a good side well drilled by Adam Jones. We understand it [the scrum] is going to be another key battle this weekend.”
It sure will. Aside from Vunipola packing down against his former England colleague Dan Cole, on the other side of the scrum you will have Leicester skipper Ellis Genge, a rival of Vunipola’s for England loosehead selection, going at it against Vincent Koch, the Springboks World Cup-winning tighthead who is playing his last match for Saracens before moving to Wasps.
They don’t make props like they used to and the demands now made of them are also very different. “The days of a front-rower being a one-dimensional set-piece player are gone and we are playing against two of the best on the weekend in Ellis for obvious reasons, the way he not just works but the impact he has for them , and Dan as well, it goes under the radar how good a defender he is,” continued Vunipola.
“When Vinny first came he was alright, he was already quite fit. We were different in that way to get fit quite quickly. Now props are expected to do everything in terms of set-piece but then getting around the park, being a good defender for your team but also when you get the opportunity you need to make an impact in attack.”
Can Vunipola still tell a player is a prop just by looking at them given their increased fitness and more defined shape? “Probably not as much these days. The ears give it away a little bit but a lot of these young boys coming out now are a bit more like back rowers.
“If you saw me you’d say this guy is definitely a front-rower but if you saw Ellis or Vinny… Dan, you could probably tell (he is a prop) because of the way his head moves, there is not much movement there… But Ellis, you look at him and you wouldn’t think he is a prop, or Vinny as well. That is where the similarities end.
“Ellis and Dan are two people I know quite well, I played with them with England and Vincent has been a stalwart for us. It is going to be an interesting battle. The similarity is that we are all good people. There are not many front-rowers who aren’t good lads.
“There is a front row unit for a reason because of all the pain you have to go through, we understand it and there is a shared respect but I am sure come Saturday we will be out there trying to do our best for our team. ”
Becoming champions again would mean a lot for Saracens following their season last year outside the top flight as punishment for repeated salary cap breaches. “The club has been through a lot and it has been well documented what has happened in that two years but that is the past now and this weekend is different.
“The emotions are there and for us as a team we have just got to play the game in front of us and don’t think too much, whatever will happen will happen.”
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