Vunipola blow for Lions

"He has been carrying an injury and feels he wouldn't be able to contribute fully to the Tour and needs further medical treatment", Gatland said.

Billy Vunipola of Saracens is tackled by Fritz Lee of Clermont Auvergne during the European Rugby Champions Cup final.

The Lions had already called up Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw to replace England scrum-half Ben Youngs, who pulled out of the tour to be with his brother Tom, whose wife is terminally ill.

"We really appreciate Billy's honesty in making this decision", said Lions head coach Warren Gatland.

Vunipola had been in devastating form for Saracens and while the Lions are well stocked in the back row, his absence is a huge blow.

The Irishman tweeted his sympathies for Vunipola. Read is a different type of player, more mobile, more dynamic, more visible in the wide open spaces but there is little doubt that in recent times the impact on a game that Billy Vunipola has is the equal at least of anything that Read might offer.

Gatland and co are due to fly to New Zealand on 29 May and will begin their 10-match, three-Test tour with an opening fixture against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians at Toll Stadium in Whangarei on Saturday 3 June. Not sure if there could have been a bigger loss of personnel.

Vunipola appeared to be playing in pain during Saracens' English Premiership semifinal loss to Exeter on Sunday (NZT Monday).

A gregarious character, he talked of his desperation to be part of the Lions squad after witnessing his brother Mako play his part in a winning Lions Series in Australia in 2013.

Former Ireland and Lions great Brian O'Driscoll also questioned how the side could possibly replace Vunipola.

  • Julie Sanders