Mako Vunipola looks set to complete a remarkable eight-month rise from international rookie to British and Irish Lions Test prop next week.
The Saracens forward will pack down against New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday as part of what could be Lions head coach Warren Gatland’s pack for the first Test showdown with Australia seven days later.
The forward unit – Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell, Tom Croft, Sam Warburton and Jamie Heaslip – has a distinct Test match feel about it.
Vunipola, 22, has proved a pillar of strength for Gatland so far on tour, especially with his fellow looseheads Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins now back home due to injuries.
The New Zealand-born prop, who only made his England debut last November, said: “I have been pleased to get three games in a row. I’ve had more chances than most players.
“Every player wants to be in the Tests. I knew with Gethin and Cian here, two solid Test props, that I had my work cut out. I knew I would have to work hard to push for the Test team.”
With Healy and Jenkins now off tour, England’s Alex Corbisiero and Scotland loosehead Ryan Grant have been added to the front-row resources, being flown in from Argentina and South Africa respectively.
Gatland, meanwhile, has put an emphasis on rest and recovery for players like centre Brian O’Driscoll and wing George North ahead of the first Test.
O’Driscoll’s fellow centre Manu Tuilagi also sits out the Waratahs appointment, although Rob Kearney is set for his first tour appearance off the bench after recovering from hamstring trouble.
Billy Twelvetrees will arrive in Australia from England’s Argentina tour as back-line cover tomorrow, with another recent arrival – Ireland wing Simon Zebo – wearing the number 11 shirt this weekend.