Rugby: England's Vunipola let off with formal warning for 'liking' Folau's anti-gay remarks

England star Billy Vunipola, who was booed every time he touched the ball in Saracens' defeat by Bristol last Saturday, had according to the Rugby Football Union, accepted that he hurt people by his stance. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES/REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - England star Billy Vunipola has escaped with a "formal warning" from the Rugby Football Union on Tuesday (April 16), after it held a meeting over his defending of Israel Folau's anti-homosexual social media comments.

Vunipola liked Folau's post and called for people to "live their lives how God intended" after the controversial full-back, who had his contract terminated by Rugby Australia on Monday, claimed that "hell awaits" homosexuals as well as drunks and adulterers among others.

Vunipola - who also received a formal warning from his club Saracens - is free to play in this year's World Cup, for which he is a pivotal member of Eddie Jones' starting XV.

"Following a meeting between the RFU and Billy Vunipola, the Saracens forward has been issued with a formal warning under RFU rule 5.12 for conduct prejudicial to the interests of the union or the game," read the RFU statement.

"The warning will be retained on his disciplinary record for a period of five years and may be taken into account in future disciplinary proceedings."

Vunipola, who was booed every time he touched the ball in Saracens' defeat by Bristol last Saturday, had according to the RFU, accepted that he hurt people by his stance.

"During the meeting the player expressed genuine regret at his public comments and understood that he had caused hurt and offence as a result of his actions," said the RFU.

"He has been reminded of his responsibilities as an England player and as an ambassador for the game, which values inclusivity and respect."

Vunipola will also be available for Saracens' European Champions Cup semi-final with Irish province Munster on Saturday after the London club, too, held talks.

"The player has been formally warned about his future conduct," said Saracens.

"We recognise the complexity of different belief systems and understand Billy's intention was to express the word of God rather than cause offence.

"However, he made a serious error of judgment in publicly sharing his opinion, which is inconsistent with the values of the club and contravenes his contractual obligations."

Vunipola also issued a statement, saying he did not intend to hurt anyone and he bears "love towards ALL people".

Folau, who was involved in a similar controversy last year, sparked the latest scandal when he posted a banner on Instagram last week saying: "Warning. Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators. Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves."

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