Mark McCall insisted Billy Vunipola’s absence was not down to his off-field controversy after the No.8 was left out of Saracens’ starting XV in their loss at Bristol Bears.

Two Callum Sheedy penalties and a Steven Luatua try gave the Bears a 13-7 lead before the England international appeared off the bench.

Coming on to a chorus of boos - a day after he controversially defended an anti-gay social media post from Israel Folau - he helped Sarries take the lead as Marcelo Bosch and Ralph Adam-Hale crossed.

But a Daniel Thomas try and a last-minute kick from Ian Madigan condemned McCall’s side to defeat.

“He’s a human being, isn’t he? He’s also very keen to do well for his teammates,” he said.

“He’s a great team man and a great club man. I thought he did very well today but I’m sure there was a lot of stuff going on in his head.”

McCall, who noted that Vunipola was also left out in last week’s victory over Newcastle Falcons, insisted the decision was tactical.

“The decision to select him was made before what happened happened. We saw no reason not to keep him in the squad.”

Meanwhile, try-scorer Bosch was gutted that his side couldn’t put more pressure on league leaders Exeter Chiefs with a win.

With Chiefs losing to Wasps yesterday, McCall’s men had a chance to make up some valuable ground with just three games to go.

But sloppiness throughout cost Sarries the win, according to the experienced Argentinian.

“We made loads of mistakes and it’s hard to win a game when you do that,” he added.

“But we showed resilience and defended our line to play better in the second half.

“We had some chances to win the game but we made too many mistakes.

“These things happen - more so against a team that is fighting for survival - but I am sure we will learn from the mistakes we made today.”