Billy Vunipola has defended his decision to withdraw from the recent Lions tour of New Zealand, insisting his conscience wouldn’t allow him to go.
The England number eight was initially called up as part of the squad to go down under, but he withdrew from the panel after the Premiership season ended to undergo shoulder surgery despite Warren Gatland’s request for him to joint the squad.
In his new autobiography Wrecking Ball, Vunipola says that his fear of letting his Lions teammates down and becoming a burden to them on the pitch was enough to stop him from boarding the plane to New Zealand:
“My conscience told me that I shouldn’t go on the tour because otherwise, I’d be letting people down.
“I’m not saying that from a selfish point of view, as if I wanted to go to New Zealand and be the star. But I didn’t think I’d be able to help the team in a positive way on the pitch. What was the point in touring if I was going to be a hindrance?
“Having learned from so many experiences, I’m now at a stage where I’m confident in what I stand for and what I believe in, so I have no doubts that I made the right decision.
“And it was my decision. It was important for me to show that I was mature enough to make the call myself and not wait for somebody else to do it for me. Sometimes my body just can’t keep up with all the demands I place on it, and that’s just the nature of the beast.
“The injury was something that happened a long time before the tour. I tried to tough it out but the timing wasn’t right for me on that occasion.”
(Quotes via the Guardian)
The 24-year-old went on to say that, despite the negatives, he was able to put missing the tour into perspective in relation to life in general:
“What helped me out massively was the realisation, which I’d had a couple of years before, that I should never define myself by rugby – there really are more important things in life.
“When I die, I don’t want to be remembered for whether I went on a Lions tour or not. I’d much rather be known for whether I was a kind or honest person. To me, that’s way more important.”
Despite Vunipola’s absence on the tour, Gatland’s Lions pulled off an unlikely drawn series against the All Blacks, made even more remarkable by the fact that they lost the first test pretty comprehensively.
The Sarries forward, meanwhile, could make his comeback against Newcastle Falcons in a Premiership clash this weekend.
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