Billy Vunipola has expressed his regret at the impact his support for Israel Folau, who claimed that ‘hell awaits’ homosexuals, had on his teammates. Nevertheless, he again fell short of apologising or retracting his previous statement that “man was made for woman to procreate.”
Vunipola was booed by Bristol and Munster fans towards the end of last season, with his Saracens teammates, although they rallied around him, subject to public scrutiny.
“The regret I would have is bringing my team-mates into disrepute,” he said.
However, Vunipola went on to reaffirm, “I want it to be known that you guys know where I stand. I’m not going to expand on it or take a step back. That is not me being stubborn, but me not wanting the players to be affected by it as it is not fair on them.”
“If I was a boxer and it was just me that I was affecting, I would sit here and answer your question. But it doesn’t just affect me. It affects the coaching staff [and] the players, because you will be asking their opinions on it. It is firmly what I put out there and it is firmly on me, but at the same time I don’t want to put them under the cosh by saying this, this and this – because that is unfair to them.”
The message Vunipola is sending then, one that Folau should have adopted months ago, is that whilst he holds beliefs some may find disagreeable, he intends to keep them to himself. Again however, his failure to apologise to fans who may have been offended by his initial statement is surely a poor decision.
Likewise, his commitment to not posting further statements on the matter is clearly not based on any contrition about the statements made, and their possible impact on fans of his, but rather the potential pressure comments could place on the England squad.
“We came to a conclusion that this issue, that people say I brought on myself, is better off left alone. I have made my position clear and what I don’t want to do is become a distraction to the players around me.”
Amongst those who expressed their disapproval with Vunipola’s social media outburst were Joe Marler, newly reinstated in the England squad, and former teammate James Haskell. Vunipola, however, is sure there will be no division within the England playing community.
“Hask came to my wedding… all these things are there to be talked about,” said Vunipola, who was recently married in Tonga before meeting up with England, before going on, “Marler and I have yet to talk about it but we are going to sit down. We are going to talk and see where it gets us.”
The RFU will not control the players social media output in the tournament, which seems a sensible move. Ultimately, the players are adults responsible for their own actions, opinions and statements.
Preventing them from access to social media would be unnecessarily draconian. The RFU cannot control whether they follow the code of conduct and act in a manner befitting for professional athletes, only discipline them if they do not.
Eddie Jones himself also addressed the issue, “That was dealt with by his club and dealt with very well by the RFU,” he said. “So, Billy now when he comes in he is a married man, he’s on England duty and we expect him to follow the values of the team, and I’m sure he will.”
Written by Joe Ronan