Mako Vunipola and Brad Barritt return from injury as Billy Vunipola starts for Saracens following his formal warnings
Saracens have received the 19-stone boost of a fit-again Mako Vunipola with the England prop returning for his first match in more than two months to start Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against Munster Rugby.
The elder Vunipola brother has not played since limping out of England’s Six Nations dismantling of France in February with damaged ankle ligaments, but he returns to start in a squad that also includes captain Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell, who both return.
Barritt has overcome an ankle injury of his own suffered late in the quarter-final victory over Glasgow Warriors three weeks ago, while Farrell was rested from last weekend’s Premiership defeat by Bristol Bears.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall has also elected to start Mako’s younger brother Billy Vunipola despite the England No 8 being warned by both his club and the Rugby Football Union this week for his controversial support of Israel Folau. The Australian has been sacked after a string of homophobic messages on social media was found to have committed a “high-level breach of the Professional Players’ Code of Conduct”, but Vunipola landed himself in trouble when he posted a message on Instagram supporting Folau for his religious views and adding that “man was created for woman to procreate”.
Vunipola accepted his warnings from club and country but the post remains on his social media account and he his selection has not been jeopardised by the disciplinary action, although after he was booed when coming off the bench against Bristol last weekend it remains to be seen what reception he receives on Saturday at the Ricoh Arena.
Saracens face a Munster side who are looking to gain revenge for their semi-final defeat against the same opposition two years ago, but they will do so without Ireland international Keith Earls.
The wing has failed in his bid to overcome a thigh injury this week and his place goes to Darren Sweetnam, adding to an injury list that also includes Irish fly-half Joey Carbery.
In total, Munster boss Johaan van Graan has made 12 changes to the rotated side that beat Benetton last weekend, which will be led by flanker Peter O’Mahony as he notches up his 50th Champions Cup appearance – all of which have been starts – along with Saracens’ George Kruis.
Saracens: (15-9) Alex Goode; Sean Maitland, Alex Lozowski, Brad Barritt, Liam Williams; Owen Farrell, Ben Spencer; (1-8) Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Titi Lamositele; Maro Itoje, George Kruis; Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: (16-23) Joe Gray, Richard Barrington, Vincent Koch, Will Skelton, Schalk Burger, Richard Wigglesworth, Nick Tompkins, David Strettle.
Munster: (15-90 Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Darren Sweetnam; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; (1-8) Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O'Mahony, Jack O'Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: (16-23) Rhys Marshall, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Arno Botha, Alby Mathewson, JJ Hanrahan, Dan Goggin.