Look out old Mako’s back.

DT Premium Content: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/rugby-union/2019/08/20/mako-vunipola-return-ireland-warm-up-hands-england-welcome-boost/

England’s World Cup prospects have received a timely boost with Mako Vunipola, their highly regarded prop, declaring himself fit and ready for action after three months on the sidelines with a ripped hamstring.

The Saracens loosehead is in the mix for Saturday’s third warm-up game against Ireland at Twickenham and has pledged to “make the most of every day and to take nothing for granted”, after a series of injuries and setbacks have made him appreciate being back playing once again. Vunipola is one of England’s clutch of world-class players and his presence is sure to reinforce resources as they head towards Japan.​

Vunipola trudged off the pitch before half-time at St James’ Park in May in the final of the Champions Cup against Leinster and has not featured since, spending a fortnight completely immobilised in bed before taking on a long-haul flight to Tonga to perform best man duties at the wedding of brother, Billy.​

“I was in a wheelchair in transit at Los Angeles and some poor lady had to push me through the airport, which was the biggest I’d ever been through,” said Vunipola, who admitted that he had piled on a few kilos during his bed-bound shift. “It was ideal because it gave me an excuse not to leave bed. 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 set-up with the TV and PlayStation. For me, it was pretty much heaven. ​

“I was ready to get out of bed, though, by the end of it. 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. I tore the tendon at the top of hamstring so the muscle became detached from the bone, so the surgeon had to go back in and attach that back on. For two weeks I was not allowed to strain my hamstring at all, so it was a case of having a completely straight leg.

“Unfortunately I went to Tonga in those two weeks so it was hard going around on crutches and watching what I eat. Luckily my family helped me through that. Mind you, I gave a terrible speech. It was my brother’s fault because he didn’t tell me until two days before the wedding.”​

From feast to famine, Vunipola has weighed in recently at almost record low levels of 122 kgs, only a kilo above his lightest recorded weight in 2016. There is little doubt that Vunipola’s ball-handling skills set him apart. Any England side with him on the team-sheet greatly enhances their prospects.​

“Massively so. I took 2015 for granted because when you are that age you think that you have loads more World Cups coming around,” said Vunipola.​

“We have talked as a group about not taking anything for granted and to make sure that we use every day to get better. It has been a tough last four to five weeks, training by yourself in rehab and doing ridiculous amounts of running. I’ve been jealous of the other boys as they have been getting ready for matches, but I’m now excited about getting the ball in my hands for a match and doing what I love doing. What my injury, as well as Toby’s, has made me realise is that any day could be your last.”​

Vunipola was man of the match when England opened their 2019 Six Nations campaign with an impressive 32-20 win over Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. The 28-year-old made 27 tackles in the game, a remarkable tally for a prop forward.​

Vunipola’s availability is part of an encouraging medical bulletin for England with flankers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry also likely to be fit for this weekend. Another injured back-row forward, Mark Wilson, has an outside chance. Wings Ruaridh McConnochie and Jack Nowell, and centre Henry Slade, are making progress towards an appearance against Italy in Newcastle on Sept 6. Northampton flanker, Lewis Ludlam, is on a stand-down period as per player welfare agreements and will join the England squad at their training camp in Treviso.


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