London — The booing of England star Billy Vunipola every time he touched the ball in Saracens’ Premiership loss to Bristol on Saturday “was unexpected”, said Sarries director of rugby Mark McCall.
Vunipola sparked a backlash by liking on Instagram — and subsequent refusal to unlike — Australian great Israel Folau’s post that “Hell awaits” homosexuals, as well as adulterers and drunks, among others.
Folau, who was embroiled in a similar controversy in 2018, is due to be fired by Rugby Australia just months away from the World Cup.
Vunipola, who is an integral part of Eddie Jones’s England side, is to be grilled by Rugby Football Union chiefs.
Judging by the reaction when he came on in the 51st minute of the surprise 23-21 loss in Bristol, Vunipola can expect a rough ride for the rest of the season, which includes the playoffs and a European Champions Cup semifinal with Irish province Munster next weekend.
“I am not sure if it is surprising. It was unexpected,” said McCall. “He is a human being and I am sure there is stuff going on in his head,” said the coach, who insisted the controversy had not affected his decision to only have him on the replacements bench.
“I don’t want to get dragged into anything. My opinion is not that relevant.
“The club have made a clear statement and we have not sat down with him yet. I will talk to him myself.”
Saracens issued a statement on Friday saying the club “proudly embraces diversity” and adding that “Billy Vunipola’s recent social media posts are inconsistent with this and we take this matter very seriously. It will be handled internally.”
McCall would not be drawn on whether the reaction to Vunipola would affect his selection of the team for the clash with Munster.
“It is seven days away and we have to look at it,” said McCall. “We will make rugby decisions ahead of our selection,” added the 51-year-old Northern Irishman.
Vunipola had been asked by several people to unlike Folau’s post on Friday.
“So this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to ‘unlike’ the @izzyfolau post. This is my position on it,” he said on his Instagram page.
“I don’t HATE anyone neither do I think I’m perfect. There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he’s saying isn’t that he doesn’t like or love those people.”
In an apparent show of support to his fellow Christian of Tongan origin, Vunipola states: “He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be. Man was made for woman to procreate that was the goal no?"
The Rugby Players Association said it acknowledged an individual’s right to their own beliefs but did not support the views expressed in Vuniopola’s social media post.