When news broke on Sunday night of Billy Vunipola’s shoulder injury and subsequent absence from the Lions tour, there was widespread disappointment and anguish.
For Vunipola, for a second Lions tour in a row, he will have to travel to the southern hemisphere to look on as he watches his older brother, Mako, wear that famous red jersey.
Since the younger Vunipola brother made his return from injury at the back end of this year’s Six Nations, the 24-year-old has been in blistering form, helping his country secure another Six Nations championship and contributing to Saracens’ European success.
— Regvation (@Regvation) May 22, 2017
It’s undoubtedly a huge blow to the Lions’ chances in New Zealand but the nature of the team is that someone will benefit from a player dropping out. In this case, it’s Wasps’, James Haskell. The 32-year-old was understandably disappointed when the original 41-man squad was announced back in April but now, he gets the opportunity to represent the Lions in what is likely to be his last opportunity to do so.
Much is made of Haskell’s personality and there is no doubt that he will have a positive influence on the squad, something which will be necessary as the squad are likely to be cooped up for long period in New Zealand.
Gatland was speaking to the media at today’s media briefing in Carton House and he revealed the type of selfless person that Haskell is.
“Yeah, I rang him and then he rang me back. So, I just asked him was he fit and he said 100%. I said it might be a possibility and just rang him back and said ‘would you like to be a part of the tour?’ and he said ‘it’s an honour, i’d carry the bags if needs be’.”
Haskell is clearly delighted just to be in the squad and knows that it is a tremendous honour but as Gatland further elaborates, Haskell’s personality, experience and competitiveness made him a shoe-in to replace Vunipola.
“That’s the kind of person he is [Haskell], I think he’ll be great for us in terms of that experience he does bring, personality to the squad and the number of caps he’s had for England.
“I think he’ll be a real positive addition to the squad and particularly, for a guy who if you said ‘look, maybe at the moment, you’re not someone who potentially might be involved in the Tests’ – he would understand that.
“Knowing him from a number of years ago, he’s a kind of character, a little like Alan Quinlan, you can give him that sort of role but he can work his way into fighting for a spot at some stage. It’s a great opportunity for him, I’m delighted for him and I’m sure he will fit in brilliantly.”
It’s a glowing endorsement of Haskell’s character and there is no doubt that he will do his best to be in the reckoning when it comes to announcing the Test side for the first match against the All Blacks.
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