Mako Vunipola: 'We didn't actually enjoy the occasion and we didn't throw a punch in the final'

Mako Vunipola is hoping Saracens can go one better this year's Gallagher Premiership final

“Last year we probably focused too much on the things outside, worrying about what people were saying."

Having returned to the Gallagher Premiership final at the first time of asking in 2022, Saracens - and Mako Vunipola - are once again 80 minutes away from being crowned champions of England but this time around, they want to go one better.

Almost 12 months ago, the five-time winners of the top-flight were left crestfallen as Leicester Tigers snatched the biggest prize in the domestic game thanks to Freddie Burns’ late drop-goal.

However, Vunipola insists that the North Londoners are a different side now as they prepare to face Sale Sharks next weekend: “Last year I think we wanted to prove them [people] wrong, and so we didn't actually enjoy the occasion and we didn't throw a punch in the final.

"That's credit to Leicester, they didn't let us throw a punch. This year I guess we're just trying to improve game-by-game the way that we want to play the game.

"We've had to adapt to a different way of playing. I think the main difference is we're not just relying on one or two people to make decisions. As a team, we want to get to a place where all 15 on the pitch can make a decision based on the picture in front of us."

At times, that has meant that the 32-year-old loosehead has featured in the first receiver role, something which he has thrived upon: “| want to be getting the ball in my hands as much as I can, probably sometimes I've got to share it out with the other forwards, sometimes they get annoyed that I get in the way too much!”

The Gallagher Premiership final this season has multiple sub-plots that will define not only how the game is played, but also the emotion of it.

Sale's talisman George Ford  - who was simply unplayed at times in last week's semi-final triumph over Leicester - will be pitting himself against old friend Owen Farrell.

There are also plenty of tasty match-ups in the context of England World Cup selection decisions for Steve Borthwick, with Ben Earl vs Tom Curry being the highlight. Perhaps most intriguing though, is the one in the coaching boxes.

Alex Sanderson left Saracens in 2020 to take over as the Director of Rugby at Sale, having enjoyed a trophy-laden spell spanning over a decade. Vunipola remembers the first time they met, and the impact the former has had on his career.

“Me and Alex started working together when I was 16 or 17. He was one of the first ones that gave me a shot with the age-grade stuff and gave me a bit of confidence that I can play at the highest level. Then to have the opportunity to work with him at Saracens for so long is a privilege.

"He's a man that wears his heart on his sleeve. He can have a calm demeanour on the outside, but on the inside, you can see his heart is pounding. That doesn't take away from his ability as a coach to put detail into a game that's chaotic. Come next week, we know that Sale will be pumped for it, that Sale will have a plan and a lot of that will be down to the work that he does with the leaders at Sale."

The final sees the two best teams of the league season clash and it promises to be a mouth-watering mix of brute and guile, but afterwards, the respect and friendships between the two camps will remain.

Vunipola added: “It's great to see him [Sanderson] go well. I'm looking forward to catching up with him after the game, but obviously we have a job to do beforehand."

Widely regarded as the most competitive rugby union league in the can only be the Gallagher Premiership.

The division is becoming more and more exciting as each year passes by so who will be lifting silverware at Twickenham in May?

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