‘It went from jubilation to the opposite of that.’
Mark McCall has revealed that Billy Vunipola’s Saracens teammates were devastated when they learnt that the England number eight would not be touring South Africa with the British and Irish Lions.
Five Saracens players were selected for the Lions, which is more than from any other club, but the younger Vunipola brother will be remaining in England.
Saracens director of rugby McCall was speaking to RugbyPass about his team’s reaction to the Lions squad announcement and revealed how disappointed they were to learn that Vunipola wasn’t selected.
? | 5️⃣ Saracens to represent @lionsofficial on tour to ?? this summer ?#StrongerTogether ⚫️?
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) May 6, 2021
The Saracens squad’s disappointment for Vunipola.
“A big bulk of the squad were in the team room watching it and a number of the players whose names could have been read out weren’t here and chose to listen to the news alone,” McCall explained.
“They [the squad] were over the moon for the five who went. Every time a name was called out the room went mad but it was funny because they did it in alphabetical order and it so happened that Billy was the last on our list of people who could have gone.
“It went from jubilation to the opposite of that, to be honest, and everybody left the room quietly because they were so disappointed for Billy, which I thought was a lovely moment.
“Billy wasn’t in the room but it said a lot about how the group feel about him.”
Gatland’s surprising selections at number eight.
There were a number of surprising selections in the Lions squad, with two of those – England international outcast Sam Simmonds and Ireland’s Jack Conan – being selected ahead of Vunipola at number eight.
While there had been plenty of fans and pundits calling for Simmonds to be included in Gatland’s Lions squad, his lack of international experience meant that the Exeter Chiefs player’s inclusion was far from a certainty.
Conan’s selection came as a surprise to many, as the Leinster number eight has just recently returned from injury and only started in one of Ireland’s five matches in the Six Nations.
Vunipola had admitted himself that he wasn’t playing at his best during England’s disappointing Six Nations campaign, but retained the trust of head coach Eddie Jones and started in all five matches.
The Saracens man was selected by Gatland to tour New Zealand with the Lions in 2017, but was unfortunately forced to withdraw due to injury before the tour began.
At the age of 28, Vunipola is certainly young enough to tour Australia with the Lions in four years’ time, but will have to return to his previous impressive form is he wishes to do so.
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