Mako Vunipola was told to stay away from England training because of concerns over a coronavirus outbreak in their “camp-based environment” and is not expected to play any further part in their Six Nations campaign.
The Rugby Football Union sparked confusion on Tuesday by stating Vunipola had been put in self-isolation only for Saracens to declare him available for selection this weekend.
On Wednesday England sought to clarify the situation by admitting Vunipola had not been quarantined but insisting they were being overly cautious because of the 24/7 nature of their training camps. Vunipola has been ruled out of the match against Wales on Saturday and is not expected to feature against Italy a week later if that game goes ahead.
Vunipola did not join England on Monday after it emerged he had a brief stopover in Hong Kong on his way back from Tonga, where he had travelled after a relative was taken ill. In response to the RFU’s claim that he was in self-isolation, Saracens issued a statement on Tuesday insisting that, in line with government advice, the prop would be available for selection to face Leicester on Saturday as he is symptom‑free.
England have since admitted they were acting on advice from the RFU’s lead medical expert, Simon Kemp, and the team doctor, Richard Tingay, and have confirmed Saracens’ approach would not lead to a change in their own policy. That means Vunipola would not be considered for selection to face Wales in the event of an injury to Joe Marler or Ellis Genge, nor Italy on Saturday week.
“Our medical team look at our team environment not other people’s and that’s the advice we followed,” the England assistant coach Steve Borthwick said. “We are a camp-based environment and we stay in together 24 hours a day effectively.
“Mako didn’t come into camp on the advice of our medical team, who looked into the situation closely and as a precaution advised us that the best thing for our environment was for him not to come in. Mako is not ill, he is not in self-isolation, but the advice we got for our environment from our medical team and the relevant parties they consulted was that he should not come into camp, and that’s the advice we followed.”
Eddie Jones had said he did not expect Vunipola to be available to face Wales. He was a surprise inclusion in the squad announced on Monday but the RFU was adamant the decision to stand down Vunipola was taken before he arrived at their Bagshot training base, allaying fears over potentially spreading the virus through the squad.