England left red-faced at Vunipola coronavirus farce
LONDON – England were left embarrassed last night after Mako Vunipola was hurriedly sent into isolation because of coronavirus fears.
The Lions prop was named in England’s squad to face Wales but quickly pulled out when medical staff realised he had flown back to England from Tonga via Hong Kong. He is not showing any symptoms but was ordered not to come into camp as a precaution and will be homebound for 14 days.
Vunipola had spent a fortnight in Tonga for personal reasons and travelled back through the infected area over the weekend. He will miss Saturday’s Six Nations clash at Twickenham and is almost certain to be ruled out of next week’s finale against Italy.
Although Vunipola was responsible for his own travel arrangements, the matter left England red-faced because they could have told him to alter his route had the issue been flagged up in
advance. Alternative flight routes via America were available, but the issue was not picked up until hours before the squad gathered at Pennyhill Park.
If the matter had not been raised and Vunipola had come into camp, the entire squad would now have been at risk.
England were reluctant to divulge any specifics on Vunipola’s absence yesterday, with forwards coach Matt Proudfoot initially claiming he was absent because of a ‘medical issue’. When pressed on the matter, he insisted: ‘I can guarantee you it is not coronavirus.’
But eventually the RFU confirmed Vunipola’s absence was for precautionary isolation.
An RFU spokeswoman said: ‘Mako Vunipola is not in the camp on medical grounds. He is not sick, but it is a precaution.’
The virus has already wreaked havoc on the tournament, with Ireland’s game against Italy in Dublin cancelled because of fears about mass gatherings.
However, Vunipola’s absence is softened by the impressive form of fellow props Joe Marler and Ellis Genge. Marler has built a reputation as England’s strongest scrummager, while Genge has developed into a highly impressive impact player.
‘We were excited to have Mako back, but we have great depth in our looseheads and they have been playing well,’ said Proudfoot.
Marler and Genge were last night retained in a 27-man squad, which also included Mark Wilson, the versatile back-rower. Wilson was sidelined by injury after the World Cup but could make his comeback after returning to action for Sale, where he is spending the season on loan from Newcastle.
Speedster Anthony Watson is also in the squad and could make his first England appearance since the World Cup final.Daily Mail