Warren Gatland has revealed the honest conversation he had with Mako Vunipola which has seen the Lions prop thrive on tour.
The Saracens star has spent the season in the second tier of English rugby after Sarries were relegated, while he also missed the first weekend of the Six Nations with an Achilles injury.
As such, he perhaps didn’t turn up for the Lions tour in peak condition – something Gatland was quick to tell him.
“We have been really pleased with Mako,” said the Lions head coach.
“And I was really honest with him and just said: ‘Mate, I didn’t feel when you came into the squad that your fitness levels are as good as they should be for international rugby’.
“He agreed with me and we have changed a bit of his scrummaging technique and him coming off the bench at the moment – he has made a huge impact.
“He has scrummaged exceptionally well, carries great, is a great defender and we will see what happens over the next few days. I really felt for Wyn [Jones] missing out, but I wasn’t in any way worried about Mako coming in and being a replacement off the bench.”
As Gatland said, Vunipola took the comments in his stride – working hard to get up to speed despite not being in camp for the first week of their training sessions in Jersey.
And the loose-head was rewarded as he ended up playing a crucial role in the first Test in Cape Town.
“Fitness is something I’ve always had to try and keep on top of since I started, really,” the prop said on Monday.
“It was obviously a step up, coming into the Lions camp having not been in for the first week of Jersey. I knew that condition-wise I was in good hands with the strength and conditioning staff and the medical staff to get me to a place where I’m able to help the team.
“It’s one of those things where there are no shortcuts, it’s just hard work, extras off the field with the team around me.”
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He also admitted that being on tour has done wonders for his scrummaging technique – which was evident in the final minutes of the 22-17 victory on Saturday night.
“Coming here, working with Muckers [Lions forwards coach Robin McBryde], he’s been great for me,” he added.
“Just looking at things differently, the way I’m able to set up and use my bind and little tweaks here and there have allowed me to present better pictures and to attack a little bit more.
“It has been great for me coming here and finding new ways or different techniques to scrum.”
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