London (AFP) - Saracens have apologised for the behaviour of England star Billy Vunipola after he and four of his club colleagues were found to have flouted social distancing guidelines designed to protect the public from the coronavirus.
Vunipola met his team-mates for coffee in St Albans on Monday, not far from Saracens' headquarters in a northwest London suburb.
The powerhouse No 8 was joined by fellow England internationals Alex Goode and Nick Isiekwe, as well as Scotland and Lions winger Sean Maitland and prop Josh Ibuanokpe picking up takeaway coffees.
Photographs carried by newspaper the Daily Mail showed the group all in close proximity to each other.
"The club was very disappointed to learn about a small group of Saracens players being sighted together in St Albans on Monday this week," said a Saracens spokesman.
"The players accept they made an error in judgement and apologise for any upset caused.
"The (British) 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."
Saracens, meanwhile, have joined forces with charity Compassion London to provide 10,000 National Health Service staff and vulnerable people with hot meals.
"Saracens 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," a club statement added.
Reigning English and European champions Saracens are set to be relegated from the Premiership, regardless of whether the currently suspended domestic rugby union season resumes or not, after breaching the league's salary cap regulations.