The Independent

‘No regrets’ for Mako Vunipola over salary cap scandal but Saracens prop feels for teammates heading for exit

The Independent

Mako Vunipola knows that the luxuries that may be afforded to SaracensEngland contingent next season will not be passed on to those on the fringe of the national team as the club prepare to rip up their title-winning team.

Saracens will be relegated to the Championship this season after receiving two points’ penalties totalling a 105-point deduction for breaching the salary cap across the last three seasons, as well as refusing to allow a mid-campaign financial audit this year. The club has also been fined £5.36m, a record for any sporting salary cap breach.

A number of the club’s England internationals are expected to stick with them in the Championship next year after holding talks with head coach Eddie Jones, who has assured them that they remain in the picture for 2021/22 even if they are in the second tier of rugby, while a series of friendlies against southern hemisphere opposition are being planned to keep them competitive with the British and Irish Lions tour next year on the horizon.

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However, while the 29-year-old has been able to move past the initial shock of Saracens’ automatic relegation, he cannot help but feel for those in the squad that know their time there is coming to an end.

“I’m obviously in a different situation to a few of the people at the club,” Vunipola said. “For me it was probably a little bit easier to move on than some people. You feel for them a little bit – not worry – but hope they get the best.

Shape Created with Sketch. Six Nations team of round two

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Shape Created with Sketch. Six Nations team of round two

1/16 Six Nations team of round two

England regained the Calcutta Cup with a 13-6 victory over Scotland, while Ireland maintained their 100 per cent record with a bonus-point win over Wales and France stumbled their way past Italy. So who makes our team of the weekend after round two?

Getty Images

2/16 15. Jordan Larmour (Ireland)

The Irishman has looked assured since replacing Rob Kearney as Ireland’s No 1 full-back and brought Saturday’s Aviva Staium encounter to life, beating four Welsh defenders with a beauty of a side-step that opened the door for the first try of the match. Kearney remains a pair of safe hands at the back, but Larmour is proving how he gives Ireland an extra cutting edge in attack.

AFP via Getty Images

3/16 14. Andrew Conway (Ireland)

Conway is quietly going about his business as the best-performing wing so far in the Six Nations, having put in two very strong performances so far. The Munster-man looked strong in defence and took his chance when it presented itself to seal the bonus point.

AP

4/16 13. Arthur Vincent (France)

Given the task of replacing the injured Virimi Vakatawa and did himself justice with an assured performance. The centre contributed well with ball in hand but it was his defensive work that stood out with 16 successful tackles to lead the line in stopping a much-improved Italian side.

AP

5/16 12. Sam Johnson (Scotland)

A few contenders for the shirt as both Owen Farrell and Bundee Aki has positive impacts this weekend, but Johnson gets the nod for being the standout Scot in defeat during the Calcutta Cup clash. The centre has put in two good performances in as many weeks, only for no reward.

REUTERS

6/16 11. Matteo Minozzi (Italy)

His head-to-head battle against Teddy Thomas saw both score tries, but it was Minozzi who showed a more all-round game that helped drag Italy back into the fight when they were in danger of being blown out of the game. As well as his try, Minozzi showed good awareness and handling to link with his teammates to unlock the most impressive defence from the opening weekend.

EPA

7/16 10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

George Ford performed well under pressure at Murrayfield and Romain Ntamack did well attacking-wise, but Sexton’s return to form cannot be overlooked. The Ireland captaincy is helping to bring the best out of him once more, and not only did he vary up his pass-to-kick ratio nicely, but he also put in a solid shift defensively – as depicted by his busted cheek when he was eventually replaced.

REUTERS

8/16 9. Anthoine Dupont (France)

The first of four players to maintain their place in our team of the weekend, Dupont is threatening to make the Player of the Tournament award a one-man race if he maintains this level of performance. It was his miss-pass that sent Gregory Alldritt in for a try, while he also made another outside break and no-look pass that split apart the defence. A word for his replacement Baptiste Serin, who scored a sumptuous individual effort.

Getty Images

9/16 1. Ellis Genge (England)

Genge may be consigned to the role of replacement at the moment but he is doing his best to batter the door down to the starting line-up in his own uncompromising way. Twice now he has come on to noticeably improve England’s scrum, which has given them the platform they need to seize control of games, and his try finally broke Scotland’s spirit to take the Calcutta Cup back south of the border.

Getty Images

10/16 2. Julien Marchand (France)

Marchand endured a slight wobble in the lineout mid-match, but it was sandwiched by a virtuoso performance with and without the ball. The hooker was one of Les Bleus most prominent carriers, but he also chipped in with 11 tackles in a 100 per cent defensive showing.

REUTERS

11/16 3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

The Irish tighthead was at his rampaging best to barrel over the Welsh defence and score Ireland’s second try, putting them back in front, but it was his reaction to winning a scrum penalty on their own five-metre line that prompted the biggest roar of the match. Furlong keeps his place comfortably as the outstanding tighthead of the Six Nations so far.

PA

12/16 4. Maro Itoje (England)

Itoje proved England’s defensive linchpin with a whopping 23 tackles in the face of Storm Ciara as the lock made a right nuisance of himself, including in the set-piece where he helped to pick apart the Scottish lineout.

AFP via Getty Images

13/16 5. James Ryan (Ireland)

Ryan keeps his place in the side with another mammoth showing with the ball in hand. Ryan carried more than any other Irish player alongside Larmour to make 50 metres from an impressive 14 attempts, and added onto that was a team-leading 18 tackles that helps to mark him out as the player of the round.

AFP via Getty Images

14/16 6. CJ Stander (Ireland)

Like Ryan, Stander retains his place with a second man-of-the-match gong in as many games. Strictly speaking, Stander played the duration at No 8 this week but such was his performance – and that of a certain Englishman – we had to find space to squeeze them both into the back-row.

AFP via Getty Images

15/16 7. Sam Underhill (England)

The flanker may not have landed all of his tackle attempts but the ones he did – 16 in total – stopped the Scots in their tracks. Underhill showed the best of his game when he needed just a split-second to strip the ball at the breakdown late in the first half and release Elliot Daly to counter.

AFP via Getty Images

16/16 8. Tom Curry (England)

Curry answered his critics in the No 8 shirt with a dominant showing at Murrayfield. The young Sale forward helped protect full-back George Furbank by dropping deep, made 12 successful tackles and led a back-row unit that delivered five turnovers in the opening half, and in a game where the hard yards were tough to come by his 70 metres were game-defining.

AFP via Getty Images

1/16 Six Nations team of round two

England regained the Calcutta Cup with a 13-6 victory over Scotland, while Ireland maintained their 100 per cent record with a bonus-point win over Wales and France stumbled their way past Italy. So who makes our team of the weekend after round two?

Getty Images

2/16 15. Jordan Larmour (Ireland)

The Irishman has looked assured since replacing Rob Kearney as Ireland’s No 1 full-back and brought Saturday’s Aviva Staium encounter to life, beating four Welsh defenders with a beauty of a side-step that opened the door for the first try of the match. Kearney remains a pair of safe hands at the back, but Larmour is proving how he gives Ireland an extra cutting edge in attack.

AFP via Getty Images

3/16 14. Andrew Conway (Ireland)

Conway is quietly going about his business as the best-performing wing so far in the Six Nations, having put in two very strong performances so far. The Munster-man looked strong in defence and took his chance when it presented itself to seal the bonus point.

AP

4/16 13. Arthur Vincent (France)

Given the task of replacing the injured Virimi Vakatawa and did himself justice with an assured performance. The centre contributed well with ball in hand but it was his defensive work that stood out with 16 successful tackles to lead the line in stopping a much-improved Italian side.

AP

5/16 12. Sam Johnson (Scotland)

A few contenders for the shirt as both Owen Farrell and Bundee Aki has positive impacts this weekend, but Johnson gets the nod for being the standout Scot in defeat during the Calcutta Cup clash. The centre has put in two good performances in as many weeks, only for no reward.

REUTERS

6/16 11. Matteo Minozzi (Italy)

His head-to-head battle against Teddy Thomas saw both score tries, but it was Minozzi who showed a more all-round game that helped drag Italy back into the fight when they were in danger of being blown out of the game. As well as his try, Minozzi showed good awareness and handling to link with his teammates to unlock the most impressive defence from the opening weekend.

EPA

7/16 10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

George Ford performed well under pressure at Murrayfield and Romain Ntamack did well attacking-wise, but Sexton’s return to form cannot be overlooked. The Ireland captaincy is helping to bring the best out of him once more, and not only did he vary up his pass-to-kick ratio nicely, but he also put in a solid shift defensively – as depicted by his busted cheek when he was eventually replaced.

REUTERS

8/16 9. Anthoine Dupont (France)

The first of four players to maintain their place in our team of the weekend, Dupont is threatening to make the Player of the Tournament award a one-man race if he maintains this level of performance. It was his miss-pass that sent Gregory Alldritt in for a try, while he also made another outside break and no-look pass that split apart the defence. A word for his replacement Baptiste Serin, who scored a sumptuous individual effort.

Getty Images

9/16 1. Ellis Genge (England)

Genge may be consigned to the role of replacement at the moment but he is doing his best to batter the door down to the starting line-up in his own uncompromising way. Twice now he has come on to noticeably improve England’s scrum, which has given them the platform they need to seize control of games, and his try finally broke Scotland’s spirit to take the Calcutta Cup back south of the border.

Getty Images

10/16 2. Julien Marchand (France)

Marchand endured a slight wobble in the lineout mid-match, but it was sandwiched by a virtuoso performance with and without the ball. The hooker was one of Les Bleus most prominent carriers, but he also chipped in with 11 tackles in a 100 per cent defensive showing.

REUTERS

11/16 3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

The Irish tighthead was at his rampaging best to barrel over the Welsh defence and score Ireland’s second try, putting them back in front, but it was his reaction to winning a scrum penalty on their own five-metre line that prompted the biggest roar of the match. Furlong keeps his place comfortably as the outstanding tighthead of the Six Nations so far.

PA

12/16 4. Maro Itoje (England)

Itoje proved England’s defensive linchpin with a whopping 23 tackles in the face of Storm Ciara as the lock made a right nuisance of himself, including in the set-piece where he helped to pick apart the Scottish lineout.

AFP via Getty Images

13/16 5. James Ryan (Ireland)

Ryan keeps his place in the side with another mammoth showing with the ball in hand. Ryan carried more than any other Irish player alongside Larmour to make 50 metres from an impressive 14 attempts, and added onto that was a team-leading 18 tackles that helps to mark him out as the player of the round.

AFP via Getty Images

14/16 6. CJ Stander (Ireland)

Like Ryan, Stander retains his place with a second man-of-the-match gong in as many games. Strictly speaking, Stander played the duration at No 8 this week but such was his performance – and that of a certain Englishman – we had to find space to squeeze them both into the back-row.

AFP via Getty Images

15/16 7. Sam Underhill (England)

The flanker may not have landed all of his tackle attempts but the ones he did – 16 in total – stopped the Scots in their tracks. Underhill showed the best of his game when he needed just a split-second to strip the ball at the breakdown late in the first half and release Elliot Daly to counter.

AFP via Getty Images

16/16 8. Tom Curry (England)

Curry answered his critics in the No 8 shirt with a dominant showing at Murrayfield. The young Sale forward helped protect full-back George Furbank by dropping deep, made 12 successful tackles and led a back-row unit that delivered five turnovers in the opening half, and in a game where the hard yards were tough to come by his 70 metres were game-defining.

AFP via Getty Images

“I’m pretty lucky in that I’m a little bit older than some of the younger boys. I’ve been in and around the England camp. I’d say most of the coaches here know what I can bring whereas some of the guys on the fringes need to play at the highest standard they can. It’s unfortunate they won’t get that at Saracens. In that sense, I was a little bit more relaxed about next year.”

The New Zealand-born loosehead prop, however, has no regrets over the co-investment partnership that he entered into with former chief executive Nigel Wray, who has paid the price for the failure to notify the Premiership’s salary cap manager Andrew Morris about the agreements with his job.

Vunipola is a joint shareholder of VunProp Limited with Wray and his younger brother Billy, with the business listed on Companies House as “other letting and operating of own or leased real estate”, but he stressed that the short earning potential from a professional rugby career that could be ended unexpectedly through injury means players must learn to make hay while the sun is shining – even if the potential for punishment has been brutally felt by the club.

“(It’s) business as usual. In terms of Nigel, he’s still there and backs us,” Vunipola explained. “For me and my brother he’s allowed us to just focus on the rugby.

“He kind of presented the opportunity to us and as rugby players our careers aren’t that long. Any opportunity that can help or sort a little bit of our future after rugby, we’re more than willing to look into it. That was our thinking when we first invested with Nigel and that’s not changed.

“He came to us, but also, he understood that we were looking at further on in our futures and not just in rugby. For us, no regrets at all. If I had the choice to do it again, I would do it again knowing what has happened. That is no slight at not caring about what has happened to the club, but more the fact that I know rugby is important, but our careers are short and I want to look ahead a bit.”

The suggestion is that Vunipola will remain with Saracens next season, just as Jamie George plans to, with the likes of Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje also expected to stick around should everything fall into place between the club, England and the Lions.

Vunipola does feel for the players who will be forced to leave Saracens (Reuters)

But while George was ready to reaffirm his loyalties to his childhood club earlier this week, Bristol-product Vunipola is still wary to confirm what his plans are for 2020/21.

“I’ve thought about it obviously but things out of my control need to happen before I can make a plan for next year. Right now I’m not sure what’s going on,” he said. “Right now I don’t really know. Some things need to happen before I can say I’m definitely staying. Those things aren’t in my control but hopefully it get sorted sooner rather than later.

“Mostly right now it’s within Saracens. For me being here now, I just focus on England. Hopefully we can sort the club stuff when I get back. For me to stay at Saracens, there are things to sort out. I don’t even know what they need to sort out. I can’t really clarify too much.

“More than likely it will happen after the Six Nations. I try and communicate as much as I can. This week I have a bit of time off. If I need to I’ll talk to them. I also want to just focus on England while I’m here. Luckily I’ve got a bit of time with the club to sort that out.”

Jack de Menezes The Independent

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