Youngs withdraws from Lions squad

by AAP

England halfback Ben Youngs has withdrawn from the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand for family reasons, he has announced in a statement on.

The 27-year-old learned the wife of his brother Tom - a Leicester Tigers and England teammate - was terminally ill with cancer having battled the illness for three years.

Youngs was included in a 41-man squad for his second tour but informed head coach Warren Gatland of his decision to withdraw this weekend.

"We are a very close family and, as I am sure everyone can respect, time is now precious together," Youngs said in a Leicester statement.

"The most important thing for me at this difficult time is to be able to offer as much support as I can to Tom and his family in the remaining time we all have together.

"It is a great honour to be selected as a member of the British and Irish Lions squad and I would like to thank Warren Gatland, the staff and the other players for their understanding in this situation.

"I wish them well and, like all rugby supporters in British and Ireland, hope they have a successful tour."

Both Ben and Tom played in Leicester's 28-23 victory against Worcester Warriors on Saturday and will feature in their Premiership semi-final against Wasps in two weeks.

Warren Gatland is confident the Lions can taste glory in New Zealand. Photo: Getty ImagesScotland captain Greig Laidlaw will take Youngs' place in the squad, ruling him out of their clash with the Wallabies on June 17.

Lions coach Gatland, again on secondment from his role as Wales coach, said: "We fully understand and respect Ben's decision to stay at home.

"Family comes first and I know from having toured with Tom and Ben in 2013 how close they are.

"This is a difficult and important time for them and we send Ben, Tom and their family our heartfelt thoughts."

Laidlaw, a veteran of 58 Tests and a proven goal-kicker, recently returned to club duty with Premiership side Gloucester after a knee injury suffered in January cut short his Six Nations campaign.

The 31-year-old Laidlaw, whose uncle Roy, an outstanding Scotland scrum-half, toured New Zealand with the 1983 Lions, was left out of the squad announced by Gatland last month, after the native New Zealander picked Youngs, Ireland's Conor Murray and Wales's Rhys Webb as his original No 9s.

At the time, Gatland stressed that Murray, his likely first-choice scrum-half against the All Blacks, had to prove his fitness before getting on the plane after suffering a neck/shoulder nerve injury playing for Ireland nearly two months ago.

Saturday witnessed Murray's first appearance since being sidelined as he played 28 minutes of Munster's 50-14 Celtic League victory over Irish rivals Connacht at Thomond Park.

The Lions tour begins on June 3.