Damian Hopley will raise serious concerns over player safety with English rugby chiefs tomorrow after Saracens No.8 Billy Vunipola was confronted by a Munster supporter on the Ricoh Arena pitch after the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final.
Hopley, CEO of Rugby Players Association which represents England’s professional players, will use tomorrow’s Professional Game Board meeting in London to call for an urgent review of stewarding levels at major matches to ensure there is no repeat of the incident when the Cup final takes place between Saracens and Leinster at St. James’ Park in Newcastle on May 11th. The PGB is made up of representatives of the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby, Championship Clubs and the RPA to monitor and manage all issues to do with playing professional rugby in England.
Vunipola was the target of constant booing during Saracens 32-16 win following his social media comments about Wallaby full back Israel Folau’s claim that gay people would go to Hell. Vunipola was issued with formal warnings by the RFU and his Saracens club after “liking” Folau’s post and a Munster fan invaded the Ricoh Arena pitch to gesticulate at the England forward at the end of the semi-final.
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Watch: Munster issue statement on Vunipola incident
Hopley told RugbyPass: “This is a massive issue and there was a pretty watered down statement from the European Cup organisers following the incident but this was a fundamental breach of security. We have seen incidents this season in football with players assaulted and who knows what may happen when an alcohol fuelled spectator who wants to be the big man on the day of a major rugby match and enters the field of play. Then we are entering dangerous territory.
“It was a pretty dark day for the sport that the breach happened at the Ricoh Arena and you would have hoped the authorities could have dealt with it in an appropriate way. We will be raising the incident with the PGB because player safety has to be paramount. The safety of the athletes who are generating all of his interest and income for the sport is vital and we cannot have anything that jeopardises their health and wellbeing.
“We have seen pressure growing in the game and I love the passion of supporters but it is important everyone takes a deep breath, remembers this is still a game and have a sense of perspective. The events at the Ricoh are a wake-up call to not sit on our laurels and to make sure that the stewarding is at a level that ensures we do not have a repeat of that incident. There is going to be an incredible final in Newcastle and we need it to be a great advert for the sport.”
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