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'I would rather grab them than nothing!' - Vunipola puts BallGate to bed

The Lions prop was accused of grabbing Owen Franks’ testicles.

Murray Kinsella reports from Wellington

WHILE STEVE HANSEN brushed off questions about Mako Vunipola grabbing Owen Franks’ testicles in a scrum last weekend, the Lions loosehead prop was more than happy to chat about his unorthodox bind.

In the aftermath of Warren Gatland’s suggestion that the All Blacks had been looking to target Conor Murray’s standing leg after he kicked, the Kiwi media got busy picking out a few bits of perceived foul play by the Lions in the first Test.

Balls

One of them centred on Vunipola apparently grabbing Franks in an uncomfortable place at Eden Park last time out, but the Saracens man was far from testy when the topic of his ‘squirrel grip’ was raised after the Lions’ captain’s run on Friday.

“I can’t remember doing it to be fair,” said Vunipola with a smile. “I have seen the video back because my family tagged me in it! They are very supportive, to be fair!

I was trying to keep my bind up and either I bind there or I drop my arm and it’s a penalty to them. I would rather grab them than nothing!”

No real harm intended, everyone moves on. Vunipola has far more serious matters to worry about, as he prepares himself for the second Test against the All Blacks.

The 26-year-old was quietly excellent in the opening encounter in Auckland and Lions head coach Gatland has been delighted with him on this tour.

“As a character, he’s got a real sense of humour in the squad, he’s pretty vocal, he’s not quiet,” said Gatland. “The experience he has got as a player, he is happy to lead and talk to the group and that experience is pretty important for us. I am pleased for him.

“I think he has deserved to establish himself as the number one loosehead on this tour and his work-rate has been exceptional out here.

Mako Vunipola Gatland says Vunipola is a positive influence. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We highlighted that in the week with the number of carries he made and how he worked getting into positions and making tackles and giving us some go-forward. He has been great.”

Vunipola will be a vital figure again as the Lions look to muscle up in the physical exchanges and be a dominant force in the set-pieces.

They were shunted backwards at scrum time before Rieko Ioane’s first try in the opening Test, and there will be no shortage of motivation to do better this time.

“If you haven’t got that desire and emotional energy, you’re in the wrong sport,” said Vunipola. “We’ve talked all week about it being the biggest game of our lives and it is.

“There is no bigger honour for us than to play for Lions against the best team in the world. If you don’t have the right emotional energy it will show out there.”

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Murray Kinsella

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