Vunipola jeers turn to cheers as Sarries beat Munster
CHAMPIONS CUP REPORT: Billy Vunipola ended a difficult week off the field by producing a man-of-the-match display as Saracens beat Munster 32-16 in a European Champions Cup semifinal at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena on Saturday.
The England No.8 was repeatedly jeered by Munster fans days after the back-row was warned by his club and the Rugby Football Union for publishing a controversial statement on social media.
Vunipola said “man was made for woman to procreate that was the goal no?” on Instagram and he also liked a post from Australia’s Israel Folau that stated “hell awaits” for homosexuals.
But although fans of the English champions were vastly outnumbered by supporters of the Irish province, their cheers could still be heard when Vunipola went over for a try in the 72nd minute that confirmed Saracens’ victory.
Munster, like Saracens, two time-European champions, have now lost 10 of their tournament record 14 semifinals.
Saracens will now play the winners of Sunday’s second semifinal between reigning champions Leinster and Toulouse in the May 11 final in Newcastle.
England captain Owen Farrell kicked 22 points for Saracens, who only led 12-9 at the break following a tryless first half.
But Michael Rhodes’ converted try and Farrell’s fifth penalty meant Saracens were 22-9 ahead minutes into the second half.
Munster cut the deficit through Darren Sweetnam’s try but Saracens still had plenty in hand.
Saracens were forced into a late change when Scotland wing Sean Maitland suffered a hamstring injury in the warm-up and was replaced by former England international David Strettle.
Saracens struck in the second minute with flyhalf Farrell’s opening penalty.
Sustained Munster pressure led to flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal’s equalising penalty in the 10th minute.
Munster fans taunted Farrell for what they thought was an early tackle on Mike Haley as the fullback fielded a high ball but it seemed the England star had got his timing just about right.
And with Munster infringing again, Farrell’s 35-metre penalty made it 6-3.
And when the Irish side strayed offside in their own 22, Farrell, made it 9-3.
Bleyendaal cut the lead to three points again in the 31st minute.
In the 37th minute, Munster and Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray levelled the match at 9-9 with a superb long range penalty from 47 metres only for Farrell to nudge Saracens ahead again in stoppage time after French referee Jerome Garces ruled the visitors’ captain Peter O’Mahony had deliberately knocked the ball on.
Brad Barritt did not return for the second half but Saracens made light of losing their skipper with the first try of the match.
Sustained phase play by the forwards was followed by Wales’ Liam Williams’ flick pass that stretched a Munster defence which scrambled to pull down prop Titi Lamositele.
But from the ensuing ruck, flank Rhodes picked an excellent line to take a short pop pass from Spencer and charge in as Munster’s attention was distracted by decoy runners.
Farrell converted and then rubbed salt in Munster’s wounds with two more penalties.
Kicking penalties was no good to Munster now but when they opted for a close-range attacking line-out, Saracens held up the drive led by centre Chris Farrell and gained a defensive scrum near their own line.
But they lost control of the setpiece and Munster worked the ball across field to send in wing Sweetnam for a 61st-minute try in the corner, converted by replacement JJ Hanrahan.
At 16-25 behind, Munster still had hope but after a run by Strettle and drive by Richard Barrington, Vunipola powered his way over the line from close range.
Man of the match: The award goes to Billy Vunipola who was outstanding with ball in hand and he scored a try as well.
Tries: Rhodes, B Vunipola
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 6
Pens: Bleyendaal 2, Murray
Yellow card: Vincent Koch (Saracens, 76 – foul play, dangerous tackle)
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Mike Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Titi Lamositele, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Nick Tompkins, 23 David Strettle.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Darren Sweetnam, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Jack O’Donoghue, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Dan Goggin.
Referee: Jérome Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)