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Mark McCall praises Mako Vunipola comeback as Saracens slip to Gloucester defeat

Saracens boss Mark McCall described Mako Vunipola's return from injury as "pretty decent" as the England prop closed in on a Test match return.

Vunipola, sidelined for nine weeks due to a knee ligament injury, played 70 minutes of Saracens' 31-23 Aviva Premiership defeat against Gloucester at Kingsholm.

And McCall said he is assuming that Vunipola will be involved when England resume RBS 6 Nations business against Twickenham visitors Italy on Sunday week.

England head coach Eddie Jones watched the loosehead's first appearance since mid-December, and McCall said: "We had an open mind as to how he (Vunipola) was going to go.

"He felt pretty good. I thought he did well, given he's been out for eight or nine weeks. Overall, I thought he was pretty decent.

"I am assuming he is going to play against Italy in some form, and I think the game-time he got tonight will have been important for him."

Mako's brother - England number eight Billy Vunipola - is continuing his recovery from a knee injury suffered on Test duty last November, and McCall added: "Billy is going very well.

"He is definitely ahead of schedule, and it will depend how the next week or so goes regarding when he comes back."

McCall, who confirmed that Saracens' Scotland international wing Sean Maitland went off after taking a blow to his ribs, was left to reflect on first back-to-back defeats for the Premiership and European champions since May 2015.

Saracens were undone by an impressive Gloucester performance that saw full-back Tom Marshall, lock Jeremy Thrush and hooker Richard Hibbard score tries, while fly-half Billy Burns kicked 13 points and centre Billy Twelvetrees booted a late penalty.

Burns, though, was carried off injured following a 10-minute delay in the second-half while he received treatment for an apparent neck problem, having gone down after he attempted to make a tackle.

Saracens were beaten just six days after being defeated by Worcester, but they could have few complaints, despite hooker Schalk Brits' early try and a Will Fraser touchdown, two Alex Lozowski penalties and two conversions, plus centre Marcelo Bosch's long-range penalty strike.

"I thought tonight was a different defeat to the one we had last week," McCall said. "Our effort was good tonight, we started the game well and played some very good rugby.

"What was disappointing was how we gave Gloucester the lead at the start of the second-half. We lacked our normal composure around our 22, and did a couple of things that we normally wouldn't do.

"We had the resilience to come back from 23-13 down, and we are disappointed that we didn't get something out of the game.

"It felt that we were not as composed as we normally are. We tried to chance our arm a few times when perhaps that wasn't the best thing to do."

Gloucester defence coach Jonny Bell confirmed that Burns had been taken to hospital.

"We are waiting to hear," Bell said. "He is at hospital at the moment. I can't tell you any more than that."

And reflecting on the result, which followed a 34-9 drubbing by Leicester last weekend, Bell added: "We knew that we would get a response, and we delivered that response.

"When you play Saracens, the European and domestic champions, it is never ever going to be easy.

"What I was particularly proud of was the character shown by the players when the scoreline came back to 23-23. The balance could have tipped in Saracens' favour, but through some good tactical kicking, we got ourselves in a position to win that game.

"The players kept their composure in tense moments. It was huge for us."


From Belfast Telegraph