‘Li­ons’ pride on the line’

Vu­nipola says side ready to prove ev­ery­one wrong af­ter first Test loss

The National - News - Sport - - RUGBY UNION -

WELLING­TON // Bri­tish & Ir­ish Li­ons prop Mako Vu­nipola once dreamed of rep­re­sent­ing his na­tive New Zealand but will bat­tle hard to­day to stop the All Blacks from seal­ing the three-Test se­ries with a game to spare.

Welling­ton-born Vu­nipola grew up fol­low­ing All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu, while his father Fe’ao, a for­mer Tonga cap­tain, once de­scribed his son as the “next Olo Brown”, a nod to the 56-Test All Blacks prop. “When I was grow­ing up I watched the All Blacks and I loved them, mostly be­cause of Jonah Lomu,” Vu­nipola said. “I al­ways wanted to be like him.”

Vu­nipola left New Zealand as a child when his father moved to Wales for a pro­fes­sional rugby con­tract. The week of the sec­ond Test is the 26-yearold front row’s first trip back to Welling­ton.

Along with younger brother Billy, who was also se­lected for the tour but with­drew with a shoulder in­jury, Vu­nipola spent his early life in Pon­ty­pool and his Welsh val­leys ac­cent is still preva­lent.

While their father wanted both his sons to play for Wales, Mako pro­gressed through the Eng­land age­group sys­tem af­ter a move to Glouces­ter­shire and a schol­ar­ship to the Mill­field School in Som­er­set. He made his Eng­land de­but in 2012 and played all three Tests on the 2013 Li­ons tour of Aus­tralia. He has ce­mented him­self as the first choice loose­head prop on the cur­rent tour.

Vu­nipola was stung by last week’s 30-15 loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park, par­tic­u­larly af­ter Li­ons coach War­ren Gat­land said his team had lacked the phys­i­cal­ity to match the world cham­pi­ons.

“It was him lay­ing the gaunt­let down to us and it’s up to us to ac­cept it,” Vu­nipola said. “We are go­ing into the game wounded and pride is on the line ... I wanted the op­por­tu­nity to go out there and prove him wrong.

“I don’t know if that’s what he meant, but it’s up to us to prove him wrong and send out a state­ment.”

A state­ment per­for­mance is what is needed for the tourists, who ar­rived as ar­guably the best team to tour New Zealand since the 1971 side that clinched the only Test se­ries vic­tory over the All Blacks.

Vu­nipola said the team had been in in­tense train­ing ses­sions and spo­ken at length about the chal­lenge to send the se­ries back to a de­cider at Eden Park on July 8.

“We know the task in front of us is im­mense ... we have spo­ken about this be­ing the big­gest game of our lives,” Vu­nipola said. “It is.”

David Rogers / Getty Im­ages

Mako Vu­nipola and the Li­ons want to make a state­ment.

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