Proud Mako focused on France

Mako Vunipola says he is both proud and honoured to be named vice captain for England’s NatWest 6 Nations clash with France in Paris on Saturday.

With Dylan Hartley unavailable for selection due to injury, Owen Farrell steps in to captain the side, with his Saracens teammate taking on the deputy role – but Mako insists the appointment won’t distract him from his primary focus.

“I’m excited, but overall it doesn’t change my role in the game,” he said.

“I’m very lucky to have a lot of experienced people around. For me it is about knuckling down and making sure I’m doing my job and my role for the team as well as I can.”

Since their first meet at Stade de France 20 years ago, England and France have met at the Paris venue on 12 occasions, with England winning five times, and Mako stressed the importance of a quick start against Les Bleus on the weekend.

“We know how tough the French are, and that they’re a very emotional side,” he said.

“We know the first 20 minutes is massive; if they get a strong foothold in the game and the crowd behind them they are a very tough team to beat – we know how tough the challenge is.”

Jacques Brunel’s side are coming off their first win in this year’s championship - a 34-17 result over Italy - having lost to Ireland and Scotland in the opening two rounds.

And with the likes of Francois Trinh-Duc reinstated at fly half and Mathieu Bastareaud occupying the centre, France are a dangerous outfit, and Mako believes they are growing in confidence too.

“We don’t know what the French are going to be like on the day, we just concentrate on what we can do,” said the 27-year-old.

“I’m not sure how they are going to react but they have some very experienced players in their captain, [Guilhem] Guirado and in the backline in Bastareaud - who is a handful - so we are under no illusions that it’ll take a full 80 minute performance.”

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The Sarries stalwart has domestic, European and world experience under his belt, having started all three Tests for the British & Irish Lions during last summer’s series against New Zealand, and Mako is confident in his ability.

“It is disappointing for us to lose a player of Dylan’s calibre, but we are very lucky in that Jamie has played in some big games and he’s played well when called upon for England,” Mako added.

“He knows what is required of him and I’m confident that he will do his job for the team.”