Billy Vunipola was praised for “doing his talking on the field” after helping Saracens claim the European Champions Cup for a third time in four years.
The England international was at his influential best, including crashing over for the only try of the second half, as Sarries secured a hard-fought 20-10 triumph over Leinster on Saturday.
Vunipola was jeered by sections of the crowd at St James’ Park – as had also been the case in his side’s semi-final against Munster – in response to him ‘liking’ a controversial social media post by Israel Folau about homosexuality.
The number eight also posted on Instagram that his beliefs had been insulted but he did not “hate” anyone. He was issued a formal warning by the Rugby Football Union for “conduct prejudicial to the interests of the union or the game”.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall admitted it had been a “complicated” time for Vunipola and his club colleagues but was delighted with his performance in the final.
“It’s obviously been a complicated five or six weeks for him – and for the squad to be honest as well,” McCall told the media.
“But what we needed from him is to do his talking on the field, not off the field. He’s been really good, and his team-mates have supported him very well.”
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) May 11, 2019
Leinster led 10-0 approaching half-time but Saracens drew level before the break, despite having to play 10 minutes with only 14 men following Maro Itoje’s yellow card.
They also had to overcome the loss of starting props Titi Lamositele and Mako Vunipola to injury, scoring 20 points without reply to be crowned champions of Europe again.
“We just thought the players handled that 10 minutes [without Itoje] incredibly well. To score just before half-time was massive for us, then I thought we played brilliantly in the second half,” McCall said.
As for Leinster, head coach Leo Cullen reflected on his team’s failure to “nail” their opportunities during periods of pressure.
“We created a lot of opportunities – you just need to make sure you nail those chances because you’re up against a very, very good team. You see the size of some of those Saracens guys and they are a big, physical team with lots of quality,” he said in his post-game press conference.
“As you’ve seen on countless occasions in the past few seasons, when a team is trying to chase the game against them it becomes very difficult because they are so aggressive in the middle of the field.
“They are comfortable defending and putting the squeeze on teams. I thought they did that really well, probably strangled us in the last 20 or 30 minutes once they had a lead, and there were some big calls at various different stages of the game that we probably missed out on, so that’s ultimately how we’ve lost the game.”
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