Saracens say Vunipola is available despite coronavirus fears
Prop was removed from the England Six Nations squad after returning from Tonga
England prop Mako Vunipola did not go into self-isolation but instead trained with Saracens. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Concerns over the increasing spread of coronavirus have prompted England to withdraw Mako Vunipola from their squad for Saturday’s Six Nations fixture against Wales. The prop trained with Saracens on Tuesday despite initial reports he was self-isolating and on Wednesday morning the club issued a statement to confirm that he was available to face Leicester this weekend.
Vunipola was to have trained with the national squad in Bagshot but, in an embarrassing U-turn, was stood down from the match at Twickenham as a precaution on the advice of team doctors, before the further twist that he was available for selection for his club.
The 29-year-old had been to Tonga for family reasons and, rather than returning via Auckland and the United States, flew back to England at the weekend via Hong Kong where around 100 cases of Covid-19 have been reported. The England management said he is showing no symptoms of coronavirus but, after learning Vunipola had stopped over in Hong Kong, opted for a safety-first approach. “He is not sick but it is a precaution,” said an England spokesperson.
In a bizarre twist, rather than self-isolating, it emerged that Vunipola subsequently returned to his club to train, with Saracens and England starkly at odds over governmental guidelines for anyone who may have been exposed to coronavirus sufferers. The National Health Service website recommends anyone who could be infected self-isolates for 14 days.
In their statement on Wednesday, Saracens said of Vunipola and his brother and team-mate Billy, who also made the trip: “Neither Billy or Mako have displayed symptoms of the coronavirus (Covid-19) and on their return to London were assessed by the club’s medical staff. The duo have been around the Saracens environment for the past couple of days, with the latter available for selection this weekend.”
The statement added: “Travellers returning from Hong Kong are not currently subject to mandatory quarantine or self-isolation unless they become symptomatic. Saracens will continue to follow the Public Health England and World Health Organisation regulations surrounding coronavirus and the medical staff will be closely monitoring Billy and Mako on a regular basis.”
England, meanwhile, initially did not expect Vunipola to feature in his side’s final Six Nations match against Italy on March 14th. It remains to be seen whether England’s visit to Rome will go ahead, given Italy is the European country worst affected by the virus.
France’s minister of sports, Roxana Maracineanu, has also raised the possibility of a travel ban for 10,000 French fans wishing to attend the Scotland v France fixture in Edinburgh on Sunday with 191 cases of coronavirus reported in France. “There is uncertainty about the movement of the 10,000 French supporters who bought tickets, we don’t know if they will be able to get there,” Maracineanu said. “We can now be considered as a hotbed of the virus.”
Ireland’s game against Italy in Dublin has already been postponed but Six Nations organisers said on Monday the rest of the weekend’s fixtures were set to go ahead.
England have included Anthony Watson and Mark Wilson in a 27-man squad for Saturday’s Test at Twickenham. Neither player has yet featured in this season’s championship because of injury. Vunipola’s absence means Joe Marler and Ellis Genge will again share the loosehead prop duties but there is no room for the Exeter scrum-half Jack Maunder, who was called up to the squad for training this week, or his fellow Chiefs Harry Williams and Ollie Devoto. The Bath hooker Tom Dunn, the Gloucester wing Ollie Thorley and the Wasps fly-half Jacob Umaga have also been omitted. – Guardian