Saracens issued an apology on Thursday after a number of the team’s players, including England regular Billy Vunipola, openly flouted lockdown rules in St Albans city centre on Monday.

Vunipola and teammates, including fellow England players Alex Goode and Nick Isiekwe, Scottish international Sean Maitland and Saracens prop Josh Ibuanokpe were reportedly seen talking and not keeping to the two-metre social distancing rule after visiting a coffee shop. Witnesses told the Daily Mail the players spent around 20 minutes in discussion.

One of those who reported the incident said: “I recognised Vunipola because he is a famous face and then saw the others with him. It was almost like they forgot where they were and everything that has been said about social distancing and were maybe heading into a scrum.

“It would have been impossible for all five to have just bumped into each other. There must have been a ring round between them for the get-together and they should have known they would attract attention. But they didn’t seem to care.”

Saracens issued a statement after confirming the group had apologised for their actions. It read: “The club was very disappointed to learn about a small group of Saracens players being sighted together in St Albans Monday this week.

“The government guidelines on social distancing and public gatherings of more than two people are very clear and the club has been vigorous in its messaging to all players and staff members about the importance of adhering to these guidelines whilst in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Management has spoken to the players involved, all of whom accept that they made an error in judgement and have apologised for any upset they may have caused. The club has reminded these players as well as the whole Saracens squad of their responsibilities to themselves and the community around them and we are confident that this will not happen again.”

Saracens were punished in January with relegation from the Premiership at the end of this scheduled season after a fourth salary-cap breach and this is a further embarrassment for the club, who had opened their Allianz Park catering facilities to Charity Compassion London during the lockdown.

Their statement continued: “We would like to reiterate our tremendous admiration and respect for the work being undertaken by NHS and other frontline staff who are tackling this virus.

“Our recent partnership with charity Compassion London, supporting efforts to provide hot meals for up to 10,000 NHS staff and vulnerable people in north London every day from the kitchens of our stadium, is an example of our commitment and support for these heroes.”

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