TV View: Hellish comments airbrushed as unrepentant Vunipola feels the love

Saracens player somehow cast as the blameless victim of some harrowing ordeal

Billy Vunipola of Saracens after the victory over Munster. Asked if he’d anything to say to the Munster fans who’d booed him during the game he replied : “Naw, from my point of view I believe in what I believe in”. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Billy Vunipola of Saracens after the victory over Munster. Asked if he’d anything to say to the Munster fans who’d booed him during the game he replied : “Naw, from my point of view I believe in what I believe in”. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

 

Well, that was one weird Saturday afternoon in the company of BT Sport.

Indeed, if you’d missed why Billy Vunipola had been in the news in the preceding days you’d have assumed from their tone that the Saracens man had been the blameless victim of some harrowing ordeal, or at the very least had his puppy stolen.

So, him scoring the try that finished off Munster in their Champions Cup semi-final was like a comforting hug from the heavens after all the poor craythur had endured.

“It’s probably been the toughest week, 10 days of his life,” said commentator Nick Mullins, “that’s the first time I’ve seen him smile for a while,” he added in an ‘ah bless’ kind of way on spotting Vunipola grigging the Munster fans after his try.

BT opted not to inform any viewers who might have been in the dark why the fella had been through the mill, so they skipped that bit where he was supportive of Australian player Israel Folau’s declaration that “hell awaits ….. drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters”, a something-for-everyone-in-the-audience sort of list that pretty much covered us all.

To that pronouncement, Vunipola added “man was made for woman to procreate, that was the goal no?”.

The English Rugby Football Union, uncomfortable with a man who pulls on their national shirt supporting the notion that anyone deserves to burn in hell, not least gay people, issued Vunipola with a formal warning, although he received a much tougher punishment from Bristol when he turned up for Premiership duty with Saracens, the song ‘It’s Raining Men’ blasting through their speakers. Their DJ should be named Sports Personality of the Year.

But watching BT on Saturday was one of those ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ moments you occasionally experience when hearing tone deaf grown-ups, who really should know better, missing the point by a country mile.

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A little like listening to Gordon Strachan on Sky Sports a few weeks back when he failed to spot any difference between football fans booing convicted sex offender Adam Johnson and black players. All you can do at a time like that is insert your face in your hands and leave it there until it’s safe to come out again.

Craig Doyle, who MCed BT’s proceedings with all the sensitivity of a pneumatic drill, needed to be beamed up himself.

“Well, you may or may not like some of the things he has to say on social media, but the fact is that he is an absolutely brilliant rugby player!”

Like if you’re uncomfortable with his views you’re incapable of acknowledging that he’s rather good at his profession. Craig? Oh . . . never mind.

Mullins, meanwhile, saluted Vunipola’s try (“. . . at the end of the week he’s had!”) by referring to the “awful lot of chatter” he’d had to endure in the build-up to the game, while Sarra Elgan asked Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall if the “outside noise” had had “a galvanising effect” on the team.

Chatter. Outside noise. Hello?

“He’s everything that’s good about Saracens,” said Austin Healy (no, he did), on awarding Vunipola man of the match, Elgan asking the player if he’d anything to say to the Munster fans who’d booed him during the game after the “storm that you somewhat created”.

“Naw, from my point of view I believe in what I believe in. There was no intention to hurt anyone,” he said, like being sent to hell need not necessarily be a negative experience.

“I felt a lot of love this week,” he told Elgan.

None more so than from BT, as it proved. Over pictures of Vunipola holding his child, a wistful Doyle told us that “sometimes it’s about family, it’s remembering who stuck by you through the difficult times, and Billy’s had a few of them . ..”.

By then you just wanted Scotty to beam up BT’s entire rugby team.

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