Saracens boss McCall hails Vunipola for ‘doing talking on the field’
Saracens have become the most successful English club in European Cup history.
Saracens boss Mark McCall hailed a towering contribution by Billy Vunipola following a memorable Heineken Champions Cup final victory over holders Leinster.
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The blockbusting number eight claimed Saracens’ clinching try in a 20-10 victory at St James’ Park, scattering defenders in his wake as he powered over the line.
England star Vunipola, who was booed most times he touched the ball during his team’s semi-final victory over Munster, again received jeers.
He was handed formal warnings from his club and the Rugby Football Union last month after he posted on social media that “man was made for woman to procreate that was the goal no?” and also liked a social media post from Australian player Israel Folau that stated “hell awaits” for homosexuals.
McCall said: “It’s obviously been a complicated five or six weeks, I guess, for him and for the squad, to be honest, as well.
“But what we needed from him was to do his talking on the field, not off the field, and he’s been really good and his team-mates have supported him very well.”
Vunipola went off near the end and had an ice pack strapped to his shoulder, but early indications suggest it is not a serious problem.
Saracens were crowned kings of Europe for a third time in four seasons, and they also became the most successful English club in European Cup history.
And they did it the hard way, wiping out a 10-point deficit through tries by Vunipola and wing Sean Maitland, plus two penalties and two conversions from Owen Farrell.
Prop Tadhg Furlong claimed a first-half touchdown for Leinster, while skipper Johnny Sexton added a conversion and penalty, but hopes of the Irishmen claiming a record fifth European title were dashed.
Saracens proved unstoppable once Maitland touched down following a dominant Leinster opening, ultimately overcoming a yellow card for Maro Itoje to storm home and taste Champions Cup glory once again.
To score just before half-time was massive for us and then I thought we played really brilliantly in the second half. Mark McCall
McCall added: “To be 10-0 down against a side of the quality of Leinster is obviously not the greatest position to be in, and then to lose Maro to the sin-bin around that time as well…
“We just thought the players handled that 10 minutes incredibly well, and to score just before half-time was massive for us, and then I thought we played really brilliantly in the second half.
“Our players took control at half-time, if I’m honest. They were very clear on what we needed to do just a little bit better.
“The first one (European Cup win) felt magical, and this one feels good because we were against a really high-class team today and we were 10-0 down, we were down to 14 men and we had to find a way to come back into the game, and we did.”
There was further cause for Saracens celebrations, meanwhile, with full-back Alex Goode being named this season’s European player of the year.
Reflecting on Leinster’s first defeat in a European final, head coach Leo Cullen said: “Everyone is going to talk about the periods either side of half-time because that was when Saracens scored some points. There were so many different moments in the game.
“We created lots of opportunities, and you just need to make sure you nail your chances. We were up against a very good team, a big physical team with lots of quality.
“When a team is trying to chase the game against them it becomes very difficult because they are so aggressive in the middle of the field and are very comfortable defending and putting the squeeze on teams.
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“I thought they did that really well and probably strangled us during the last 20 or 30 minutes. We are gutted.
“Ultimately, Saracens probably capitalised on the chances they created better than we did.
“We will always look at ourselves first. We probably didn’t quite get it right today, but it’s tough out there. There were some big moments that we just didn’t quite get.”