Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall saluted Billy Vunipola after the England international inspired a 22-6 victory over London Irish at Allianz Park on Saturday.
Vunipola’s England career hit a slump during the November Tests when the 22-year-old was dropped by Stuart Lancaster after starting in the defeats to New Zealand and South Africa.
The Saracens number eight was left out of the match squads for the victories over Samoa and Australia, with his replacement Ben Morgan subsequently named England’s player of the series.
“He was great today,” said McCall. “What’s impressive is how he recovered from the huge setback he got. From being the starting number eight in the Six Nations to not even going into the England camp for the last couple of weeks. It’s a hell of a blow for a young fella.
“You can only judge him by how he’s reacted and how he’s responded. That’s five games in a row when he’s been there or thereabouts in terms of getting close to man of the match.
“He was really good out there today. It’s good for us and it’s good for him that he’s back in top form.”
After David Strettle surged over in the right corner for his second try of the match, it looked like third placed Saracens would go on to claim the last two tries they needed for a bonus point as they chase leaders Northampton.
But London Irish held firm as McCall’s men failed to score another try in the final quarter.
In Saturday’s other match, Gloucester secured a tense 26-25 win at Exeter.
Greg Laidlaw kicked two penalties to put Gloucester 6-0 ahead at half-time.
When Billy Twelvetrees added to the visitors’ lead with a drop-goal, it seemed Gloucester were on course for an easy victory.
But tries from Jack Nowell and Matt Jess put Exeter in front for the first time.
Gloucester responded well and Tom Savage and Ben Morgan scored tries to regain the lead, before Gareth Steenson’s missed conversion for Exeter after Thomas Waldrom’s try proved costly.
The lead swapped four times after Savage went over, with Steenson kicking two penalties and Laidlaw adding a third of his own.
Gloucester’s victory was only their second in their last seven Premiership matches, while Exeter have now lost three in a row.