British and Irish Lions head coach has revealed just how wrecked the shoulder of Billy Vunipola is today at the latest Lions press event at Carton House and it’s fair to say that it is a small wonder the wrecking ball No.8 managed to play on this long.
Having overcome a knee injury earlier this season, Vunipola lined out for England for their final couple of games during the Six Nations earlier this spring, delivering the kind of performances we have come to expect from the Saracens back row forward.
News over the weekend that the 24-year-old had withdrawn from the Lions tour came as a hammer blow to fans, who believe his rampaging ball carry skills is just what the tourists will need against the double-defending world champions on their home soil this summer.
Now however, Gatland has revealed the extent of Vunipola’s shoulder problem and to be honest, it is surprising he was even playing at all these past few months.
Speaking at today’s press event at Carton House, Gatland explained,
“I spoke to Billy and he just felt he couldn’t give us 100 per cent.
“It was popping out during games and being strapped. I did try to persuade him to come over and be assessed and look at managing him but he was adamant that he was not right. If someone is not 100 per cent right in terms of their commitment, I fully understand and respect that decision.”
The New Zealander continued,
“It was pretty tough for him. He has had an ongoing shoulder problem for the last five to six months and it has slowly got worse.”
Instead of travelling with his brother and the rest of the Lions to New Zealand next week, Vunipola now faces his second trip to the operating table this season, following an earlier knee injury that saw him miss nearly two months at the start of the year.
His withdrawal now sees Gatland presented with an intriguing set of back row options to choose from for the forthcoming tour, with newly called up James Haskell joining Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton, CJ Stander, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony in the hunt for coveted starting spots in the highly anticipated Tests with the All Blacks.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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