Mako Vunipola believes New Zealand’s concerted campaign to destabilise the British and Irish Lions’ scrum has backfired.
The Crusaders and the Highlanders both attempted to influence officials by claiming they had set-piece dominance over the Lions – an area where the tourists always hoped to be strong.
despite home protests to the contrary, before slipping off the set-piece pace
Vunipola believes outside criticism forced the Lions to redouble their set-piece efforts – and the tourists bullied the Maori All Blacks at the scrum
“There was a bit of talk from outside about our scrum and how it was creaking but we focused on what we can control and if anything it has given us the kick in the backside that we needed,” said Vunipola.
“The scrum is pretty simple, whoever pushes harder wins, we knew that coming down here but we’ve had to adapt a little bit and we are looking forward to the challenges that are still coming.”
Saracens front-rower Vunipola hailed the Lions’ progress, but also admitted another serious hike in performance will be required against the back-to-back world champion All Blacks.
“Whenever we take the field it is an opportunity to go out there and impose ourselves and I thought we did that at times with our driving maul and our scrum so we are very pleased with that,” said Vunipola.
“But we have got to step up again now for the next challenge.
“We talked about the conditions, that we needed to try and play the territory and play them as well as we could. Our nine and 10 put us in the right areas and it was up to us to try and put the squeeze on them and the scrum I felt at times we had the ascendancy.
“They were a good pack and it was a good old battle out there. We went out there and talked about it as an opportunity to play the Maori and put our best foot forward to build momentum into next week.”
Boss Gatland has come under fire for adding four reinforcements from Wales and two from Scotland –
Gatland ignored England’s men touring in Argentina and Ireland’s in Japan because of the arduous travel and acclimatisation demands.
The Lions head coach wants his six additions to sit on the bench for the midweek matches against the Chiefs and the Hurricanes, to keep the Test match 23 fresh for the All Blacks.
“For us as players, we just go about our job, we are here to win the Test series,” Vunipola said of Gatland’s squad additions.
“We know what the plan for this tour is, to come out here and challenge the All Blacks and win the Test series.
“We knew that we had to learn quickly on the job and gel as a team quickly, we knew these games would be tough and there would be disappointments along the road.
“But the whole point was to get ourselves ready for the Test series and we have got another chance on Tuesday to build on this win and get some good momentum going into Saturday.”