Mako Vunipola cites change in attitude for Lions selection

Saracens forward Mako Vunipola says a change in lifestyle is behind his remarkable rise to England recognition and British & Irish Lions selection.

The 22-year-old, 20st 6lb prop, who had not made a Premiership start until this season, was put through a new fitness regime by his club last summer.

"It's been a massive attitude change for me personally," he told BBC Sport.

It's been a sudden rise. If someone had said three years ago a Lions place was possible I would probably have paid them money

Mako Vunipola Saracens and England prop

"When I first started at Sarries I had a bad habit of eating out and snacking here and there."

Saracens' fitness work with Vunipola was part of a larger effort to bulk up their forwards, but the New Zealand-born loose-head has benefitted to the extent of winning nine England caps and receiving a call-up for this summer's Lions tour.

"For me it's been that attitude change, knowing that every bit counts," he said.

"It's been tough for me to get used to, but after a year of it, it's paying dividends now.

"As a player it's all on your own back. You can only go as far as you want. For me it was a massive thing to push myself, knowing that I had to get myself fit.

Who is Mako Vunipola?

Mako Vunipola
  • Born 13/1/1991 Wellington, New Zealand
  • 1998 - relocates to Wales after father Fe'ao signs for Pontypool
  • 2009-10 season - makes Bristol debut after progressing through club's academy
  • 2010 - promoted to England Under-20 squad
  • March 2011 - part of England Under-20 side that wins the Grand Slam
  • July 2011 - joins Saracens after 33 appearances for Bristol, including five tries
  • 2011-12 season - broken metatarsal and hamstring injury restrict him to 11 club appearances
  • 2012-13 season: Makes full Premiership debut, wins first England cap and earns Lions call-up

"It's important to keep my feet on the ground and not got ahead of myself and not be too big-headed.

"To get the Lions call-up was a massive honour. To represent the Lions as a player is the highest honour. I'm very pleased and happy that I'm there with two of my team-mates [Matt Stevens and Owen Farrell]."

Born in Wellington, Vunipola's father Fe'ao is Tongan, but he was raised in Pontypool and speaks with a distinctive Welsh accent.

He started his career at Bristol, leaving for then Premiership champions Saracens in 2011, and qualifies for England through residency, coming up through the under-18s and Saxons set-up.

This campaign has been his breakthrough year, helping Sarries reach the Heineken Cup semi-final, as well as a play-off semi against Northampton on Sunday and earning himself a nomination for the Rugby Players' Association player and young player of the season awards.

"It's all happened very quickly," he said.

"This time three years ago I was probably watching everyone else play. I would have watched Six Nations, then the Heineken Cup and Saracens' play-off semi-final.

"It's been a sudden rise. If someone had said a Lions place was possible I would probably have paid them money.

"At that point I had no idea that everything would happen so quickly. It's just been enjoyable playing my rugby for Saracens."