Mako Vunipola approaching best shape of his career after recovering from surgery

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Fit-again Mako Vunipola is approaching the best shape of his career – but try telling that to the lady who had to wheel the 122kg prop through Los Angeles airport back in June.

Vunipola has finally recovered from the torn hamstring tendon he suffered in Saracens’ Champions Cup final victory in May, and could feature in England’s clash with Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday.

The 28-year-old could not straighten his leg after surgery to fix the tendon back onto the bone, and so had to use crutches and a wheelchair en route to brother Billy’s wedding back in Tonga.

While the British and Irish Lions prop enjoyed his convalescence, he admitted some of those enlisted to help his mobility had their work cut out.

“In terms of bodyweight I’m near enough the lightest I’ve ever been,” said the elder Vunipola brother.

“I feel good about that. Body conditioning-wise it’s one of those constant things for me, I’ve just got to keep working on that.

“In terms of fitness I feel very good. Match fitness is something different. We’ll see how I go on the weekend if I get the chance.

“I weigh 122kg now, and the lightest I’ve ever been was 121kg, in Australia in 2016.

“I tore the tendon at the top of hamstring so the muscle became detached from the bone, so they had to go back in and attach that back on.

“For two weeks I was not allowed to strain my hamstring.

“Unfortunately I went to Tonga in those two weeks so it was hard going round on crutches and watching what I eat. Luckily my family helped me through that.

“I could bend my knee but I couldn’t lie straight with it. The airport staff looked after me in Los Angeles on the way.

“I was in a wheelchair and some poor lady had to push me. She was struggling a bit!

“I asked, ‘Are you OK?’, and I owed her a big thank you.”

Vunipola is itching to get going after his latest injury setback, and now has the chance to chase full match sharpness, with England launching their World Cup campaign against Tonga on September 22.

Happy to joke about his experiences now, the combative front-rower also knows full well how injuries can quickly alter a mood.

“I had to put pillows underneath my leg: it was ideal because it gave me an excuse not to leave bed,” joked Vunipola.

“I don’t need much excuse. I was in bed constantly apart from when I needed to go to the bathroom or the kitchen.

“I had a pretty good setup with the TV and Playstation. For me, it was pretty much heaven. I was ready to get out of bed by the end of it though.

“I needed to move and get the hamstring moving, but I also felt very sloppy by the end of those two weeks.

“You get bigger and you lose muscle – not that you can really tell the difference.”

Asked what he weighed at the end of that fortnight off his feet, Vunipola joked he avoided the scales – to stay out of trouble with head coach Eddie Jones.

He added: “I didn’t even want to get on the scales. I don’t want to say either. I don’t want Eddie finding out!

“I’m excited about being back playing, it’s been tough the last four to five weeks training by myself.

“We have talked about not wanting to take anything for granted.

“Every time I think I am alright, something else happens. It might be luck, it might be something else, but every day and every time I am training I have to make sure I am doing my best to improve and every time I play, play like it’s my last game.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Ken Owens would prefer Wales were world No1 after World Cup ends

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Ken Owens says Wales need to “keep building and improving” after a red-letter day saw them beat England and become world number one.

Wales’ 13-6 World Cup warm-up success in Cardiff meant they ended New Zealand’s unbroken 10-year reign as rugby union’s ranking leaders.

They also achieved it less than five weeks before the World Cup starts in Japan, with Wales having won 15 of their last 16 Tests.

Owens, though, joined Wales head coach Warren Gatland in keeping his feet firmly on the ground following such a landmark statistical feat.

“I would prefer to be there (number one) at the start of November (when the World Cup ends), but it is now just a table and something to talk about,” Wales hooker Owens said.

“We were a lot better this week,” he added, in reference to Wales’ 33-19 defeat to England at Twickenham last Sunday.

Wales have toppled New Zealand as the world's No1 ranked team for the first time in a decade.

Wales have toppled New Zealand as the world’s No1 ranked team for the first time in a decade.

“We spoke about the need to start a lot better. The first 20 minutes last week cost us the game. We spoke about our line speed defensively and our accuracy in attack, and I think we delivered that.

“We dug in and got the job done. We delivered, which is a huge tick in the box for us.

“We have got to be on the money now. We’ve had probably our poor performance out of the system, that slow start people talk about, and we have got to keep building and improving. We can’t let that standard drop.”

Wales have two more preparation fixtures – home and away against Ireland – and a warm-weather training camp in Turkey before they leave for Japan next month.

And they have a solid foundation to build on after extending an unbeaten home record to 11 games which stretches back to November 2017.

“There were lots of pressure moments out there, especially towards the last five or 10 minutes,” Owens added.

“In fairness, the boys came up with some big plays. Dillon Lewis turned a maul over, which is a big strength of England’s.

“It (Turkey) is a good nine days to get away and get a little bit more training in away from everything.

“We can just concentrate on the rugby again and get our combinations working and get more time on the training field in full rugby situations. We want to get ready to peak for the two games against Ireland to come.”

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Eddie Jones says Pascal Gauzere should see yellow card after England's defeat to Wales

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Eddie Jones was unappy with referee Pascal Gauzere (r) even though the official acted within the laws of the game.

Eddie Jones believes Pascal Gauzere should be shown a yellow card for allowing George North’s try in England‘s defeat by Wales on Saturday even though the French referee acted within the laws.

Gauzere let Dan Biggar take a quick tap penalty that led to North claiming the crucial score as Warren Gatland’s men avenged their defeat at Twickenham six days earlier through a 13-6 victory in Cardiff.

England were expecting Gauzere to wait for the sin-binned Anthony Watson to leave the pitch as punishment for a deliberate knock-on before allowing Wales to restart play.

However, there is no law requiring the referee to pause the game until the carded player is off the field.

When asked if Gauzere should have waited, England head coach Jones replied: “I think we all thought that was the law. So maybe the yellow card should have gone to the referee.

“It is what it is. We had to cope with whatever he decided was right. And if he wants a variation of the law, we’ve got to be good enough to cope with it.

Unhappy: Eddie Jones.

Unhappy: Eddie Jones.

“It’s not worth going into it because I don’t want that to be the headline of the game. It happened, we had to cope with it, didn’t cope with it, and they scored their winning try. So be it.”

Jones also resumed an attack on World Rugby that began incoherently at Twickenham last Sunday when he turned on referee Mathieu Raynal, then exonerated him, before criticising a red card for dangerous play shown to New Zealand 24 hours earlier.

The Australian was part of a panel that in 2016 advised World Rugby what measures should be taken as part of a zero-tolerance policy to reckless and accidental head contact.

“You’re not allowed to comment on referees. World Rugby are like Big Brother, they have facial recognition everywhere, you say one word and you’re in trouble,” he said.

England were ambushed at a time when Ben Youngs was standing on the sideline waiting to replace Willi Heinz, who had already departed for a head injury assessment, reducing them to 13 men.

They were caught unaware as they gathered in a huddle in expectation that Watson must first leave the pitch, but captain George Ford at least recognised they were at fault.

“We were trying to discuss what to do with the next 10 minutes with the yellow card with Anthony off the field. It’s something we have to anticipate better,” Ford said.

“I’m not too sure what was going on, on the sidelines, but it’s a good reminder for us as it’s seven points and ultimately that was the difference between the teams. We need to be on our toes a bit better.”

The theme of never losing eyes on the opposition was taken up by Youngs.

“It’s happened here and I dare say something like that will not happen again. It’s one of those things,” the Lions scrum-half said.

“There’s nothing as players that you can do about that except take the one lesson which is don’t switch off when there’s a penalty.

“As long as it’s ironed out and doesn’t happen in the future, I’m sure it will be fine.”

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