‘There was no intention to hurt anyone’ says Billy Vunipola on social media row

Paul Rees at the Ricoh Arena

Billy Vunipola played down more hostile reaction to him following his liking of Israel Folau’s social media tirade against sinners after helping Saracens into next month’s final.

The England No 8, who was booed by Munster fans, had finished an interview having been named man of the match when he was confronted by a spectator who gestured to Vunipola and tried, unsuccessfully, to draw him into an argument.

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“I believe what I believe in and there was no intention to hurt anyone,” said Vunipola. “Behind closed doors this week, I felt a lot of love and kindness. I am very grateful to be part of this team and I hope we can keep up what we are doing.

“We were grateful to be in another semi-final and when you play in these matches you have to fight as hard as you can.

“A few of the boys were probably not as fit as they would have liked, including my brother and Brad [Barritt], but everyone stepped up.”

The Saracens’ director of rugby, Mark McCall, said he believed the affair had brought a squad renowned for being tight-knit even closer. “This group is pretty good when it has its back to the wall,” he said. “We have all been through a lot. I did not see what happened with Billy at the end so I will not comment on it.

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“What you could see was that the group was tight and together. It was a great squad effort and Billy was part of it. The club dealt with the matter decisively, quickly and fairly.

“We played really well. The scoreboard at half-time said 12-9 but it did not feel like that. The players understood that it did not reflect how good they had been. We were in control, but you know that in a match like this it is a wearing-down process. These matches take a long time to win.”

Munster had drawn level just before the interval, but they never led and at one point in the second half trailed by 16 points on their way to a third successive defeat at this stage in the tournament.

A spectator confronts Billy Vunipola after the game. Munster’s media officer has argued the man was not clearly a fan of the Irish side.

A spectator confronts Billy Vunipola after the game. Munster’s media officer has argued the man was not clearly a fan of the Irish side. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho/Rex/Shutterstock

“We were beaten by the better side on the day,” said the Munster head coach, Johann van Graan. “They turned the screws on us at the start of the second half. I could not fault our effort. We gave it all we had and we’ll be back.”

Van Graan was asked about the incident involving Vunipola after the end of the match but was not allowed to answer it after an intervention by the club’s media officer on the grounds that it had not been established as a fact that the spectator involved was a Munster supporter.

Regarding the spectator, a European Professional Club Rugby spokesman said: “EPCR does not condone the entry of a spectator to the field of play. Following the regrettable incident at the Ricoh Arena, the spectator in question is currently being detained by the stadium authorities.”