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Saracens standing behind Billy Vunipola as England international is taunted by Munster

Saracens standing behind Billy Vunipola as England international boo boys give club siege mentality

  • Billy Vunipola responded to taunts from Munster fans with a solid performance 
  • Saracens and Vunipola dismantled Munster to reach the Champions Cup final  
  • Vunipola’s social media post sought to show solidarity with Israel Folau
  • The Australia full-back’s career is in jeopardy following homophobic outbursts

One by one, the victors spoke up in support of Billy Vunipola, after Saracens and their pantomime villain dismantled Munster to reach the Champions Cup final.

If it was an uncomfortable occasion for the England No 8 in Coventry on Saturday, he did not let it show.

Taunted as a homophobe by Irish fans — some of whom waved pride flags — Vunipola’s response was a tour de force of ball-carrying, capped by a try and a prize.

Saracens' Billy Vunipola responded to taunts from Munster fans with a solid performance

Saracens’ Billy Vunipola responded to taunts from Munster fans with a solid performance

Days earlier, Saracens’ director of rugby, Mark McCall, had described Billy as ‘sensitive but strong’. 

There was more of the latter than the former as he dealt with the backlash against his ill-advised social media post, which sought to show solidarity with disgraced Australia full-back Israel Folau, whose career is in jeopardy following homophobic outbursts.

The half-empty stands at the Ricoh Arena were dominated by Munster fans. They booed and abused Vunipola throughout this ultimately one-sided semi-final, but he had the last laugh, when he touched down and smiled and waved at them. 

To twist the knife, he was named man of the match and embarked on a lap of honour. He kept his cool when a pitch-invader confronted him.

That Munster fan was held by security staff — after what amounted to a significant breach — just as Saracens were sticking their heads above the parapet to give their embattled forward backing.

His older brother, Mako, described himself as ‘massively proud’, after celebrating Billy’s try with gusto from the bench.

Saracens' Vunipola was confronted by a Munster fan after the game on Saturday afternoon

Saracens’ Vunipola was confronted by a Munster fan after the game on Saturday afternoon

The Lions prop added: ‘He just went out there and did his bit for the team. He showed how much he cares for the players around him.’

Asked if he had felt defensive while his sibling was being subjected to a torrent of derision in the previous week, Mako said: ‘Kind of. As a brother you look out for each other, but he is a big boy who can take care of himself. 

‘I heard the crowd jeering him. It is one of those things that happens. You deal with it and move on. He did well not to respond. We are all humans and we all have emotions.’

His older brother, Mako, described himself as ‘massively proud’ after celebrating his try

His older brother, Mako, described himself as ‘massively proud’ after celebrating his try

Saracens’ collective performance was truly magnificent on a day when they eclipsed dangerous opponents at the contact areas. They played as if bound by a fervent spirit of unity and defiance, which is just how they explained it afterwards.

The criticism of Vunipola came amid barbs about their modest support at this marquee fixture and an investigation by Premiership Rugby about business dealings which may represent breaches of the salary cap.

‘As a group you can either grow tighter or split apart,’ said Mako. ‘We knew we had to do it together. Today the boys fought for each other.’

They certainly fought for Billy — then they talked for him too. Fellow back-rower Jackson Wray said: ‘He has been in the media a lot and it has hit him hard. We are there for him, he is a team-mate and anything that happens outside makes us tighter. Today we showed that, and he showed that. He had a great game.’

Vunipola was named man of the match and embarked on a lap of honour after the match

Vunipola was named man of the match and embarked on a lap of honour after the match

McCall added: ‘He played really well the whole game, he carried strongly for us the whole game, he defended brilliantly. He made a lot of really important collisions.’

He went on to acclaim his squad, saying: ‘I suppose the mark of a tight group is that you support your team-mates through the good times and through the difficult times, and that is what I have witnessed this week.

‘We all don’t get things right all the time and people make mistakes. We don’t discard them, all of a sudden, because of that. We stick by the people that we have grown with over a very long period of time and I think that’s the hallmark of a good team.’

Munster could not compete with the English champions, who were thunderous up front and nimble out wide.

Owen Farrell ran the show while Alex Goode, David Strettle and Liam Williams were magnificent.

McCall’s men will go to Newcastle next month for their fourth Champions Cup final appearance in six years. On this evidence, a third title is there for the taking.

 

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