Vunipola can still have major role despite Test snub, says Lions boss

Frank Dalleres
Follow Frank
BRITISH and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland insists Saracens prop Mako Vunipola still has a key role to play in tomorrow’s first Test in Australia, despite being left out of the starting XV.

Vunipola had impressed in his four starts on tour but has been overlooked in favour of his England team-mate Alex Corbisiero, who was a late addition to the squad after injuries hit the front row.

Gatland indicated Corbisiero’s superior technique earned him the nod over his 22-year-old rival, but reassured Vunipola that his explosive power would be required from the replacements’ bench.

“Mako’s been pretty unlucky. Technically Alex is probably a little bit sounder and potentially we feel we might have a little bit of an edge at scrum time, although it will be a tough contest,” he said.

“Coming off the bench will give us a huge amount of impetus and that’s a big strength of his game. Alex might also prove to be a better combination with Tom Youngs and Adam Jones, but there’s no doubt Mako will have an impact for us coming off the bench.”
Corbisiero’s selection completes a remarkable turnaround in fortunes, having been plagued with knee injuries that kept him out of the Six Nations.

The 24-year-old London Irish player started last week’s convincing victory over a Combined Country XV and came off the bench in the win over Waratahs and Tuesday’s defeat to the Brumbies.

“I’m thrilled to be involved, very proud and excited. Every time I had some game time I tried to make an impact and show what I can do in this environment,” said Corbisiero.

“There were some dark times this season when the injury was taking its time to heal. It’s good looking back now that there was light at the end of the tunnel. I’m glad I was patient.”

15 Berrick Barnes
14 Israel Folau
13 Adam Ashley-Cooper
12 Christian Lealiifano
11 Digby Ioane
10 James O’Connor
9 Will Genia
1 Benn Robinson
2 Stephen Moore
3 Ben Alexander
4 James Horwill (C)
5 Kane Douglas
6 Ben Mowen
7 Michael Hooper
8 Wycliff Palu

Replacements: Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper, S Kepu, Rob Simmons, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Pat McCabe, Kurtley Beale 

British and Irish Lions
15 Leigh Halfpenny
14 Alex Cuthbert
13 Brian O’Driscoll
12 Jonathan Davies
11 George North
10 Jonny Sexton
9 Mike Phillips
1 Alex Corbisiero
2 Tom Youngs
3 Adam Jones
4 Alun Wyn Jones
5 Paul O’Connell
6 Tom Croft
7 Sam Warburton (C)
8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Dan Lydiate, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Sean Maitland