England No8 star had heartbreaking conversation with Warren Gatland last night as James Haskell called up as replacement
BILLY VUNIPOLA is out of the Lions tour to New Zealand – handing the tourists a massive blow in their chances of beating the All Blacks.
Injured England star No8 Vunipola has been replaced by James Haskell after a heartbreaking conversation with boss Warren Gatland last night.
Vunipola aggravated a shoulder injury for Saracens in their ferocious Premiership play-off loss to Exeter Chiefs on Saturday.
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The 24-year-old will see a specialist this week and could need surgery having already had knee surgery earlier in the season.
After being nominated for 2016 world player-of-the-year and spearheading England to their Six Nations defence Vunipola was a dead cert for the No8 shirt.
Instead off tearing into the Southern Hemisphere heavyweights the Saracens European Cup winner will spend the summer rehabbing to get fit for the start of next year’s campaign.
Lions chief Warren Gatland said: “It is really disappointing for Billy and we know how much he was looking forward to joining the squad.
“He has been carrying an injury and feels he wouldn’t be able to contribute fully to the Tour and needs further medical treatment.
“We really appreciate his honesty in making this decision and wish him luck with his recovery.
“We have called up James to the squad, we wish him all the best next weekend and look forward to welcoming him into camp before we depart.”
Wales back rower Toby Faletau is now likely to fill the boots of Big Billy in the Test side as Haskell, who can play as a No8, is utilised more as a flanker for Wasps.
Speaking of his initial Lions rejection just two weeks ago, Haskell said: “Being selected for a Lions tour turns a good player into a great player.
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“That’s the only way to look at it. Anyone who goes on a tour can have their career defined by it.
“I saw a quote from Billy Vunipola saying players are always thinking about it. I love Bill, but it’s easier for him because he’s one of those players who are right up there.
“He’s in the mix, he’s a Lions-quality player. For someone like myself, I will define my career by winning silverware.
“To go on a Lions tour would be a dream come true, but I’m not sure it’s going to be a reality.
“That means I have to define myself and be comfortable with putting everything I can into my game and into my life.
“If I had to finish playing rugby today, would I be happy that I’d given 100 per cent?
“Would I be happy that I’ve lived my life as I would have wanted?
“Would I be happy that I did everything on and off the field to maximise the opportunities I’ve had? I would be comfortable with that.”