Decisions don’t get more difficult than the one Billy Vunipola had to make on Sunday. After watching his older brother make his Lions debut in 2013 and subsequently contributing to a historic Lions series triumph – you could forgive the younger sibling for looking on in envy.
The Saracens man was only 20-years-old at the time and was just about to make the move from Wasps but you know that he would have set a target in his mind to represent the Lions on the 2017 tour of New Zealand.
His injury problems this season put doubts over his participation but he recovered well from injury to make his way back into an England championship winning Six Nations side and of course, an almost double-winning Saracens team.
It was revealed today at the Lions press conference in Carton House, that Vunipola had, in fact, been suffering from shoulder trouble for a couple of months and was due to have surgery after the Lions tour to finally remedy the problem.
However, the damage is such that Vunipola deemed it necessary to get the surgery now, instead of risking irreversible damage. It must have been so difficult for the Sydney-born back row to make that decision. There would have been a part of him knowing that he could possibly get through the tour but the sign of the man is that if he cannot give 100%, then he should not be there.
Warburton told the media today that he was disappointed for the 24-year-old but ultimately was in respect of the man for making such a brave decision.
“It’s a really mature and brave call to make. There’s a lot of pressure on him, a lot of pressure for him to go on tour. He could have ended up coming and playing the first two games, perhaps he thought he would be playing under par and then end up being sent home because of his shoulder, so, it’s a pretty brave call from Billy to put the team first.”
Warburton though, hopes that Vunipola can take solace in the fact that age is on his side and says the 24-year-old can potentially play in another two Lions tours.
“He’ll be gutted but he’s young enough to go on potentially another two Lions tours so disappointing for Billy but I’m sure he will be back and in four years time be at the top of his game and red hot for the Lions again as well.”
It’s certainly a blow for the Lions but supporters will agree that you need to be at your very best to compete with the All Blacks and that they would rather have a 100% Vunipola in four years time against the Springboks rather than risk serious damage during this tour.