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Ben Youngs' absence leaves Lions feeling subdued on 'Messy Monday'

Warren Gatland spoke about the difficult situation that prompted the England scrum-half to withdraw from the squad.

Head Coach Warren Gatland at the British and Irish Lions Player Administration Day, Syon House.
Head Coach Warren Gatland at the British and Irish Lions Player Administration Day, Syon House.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Rory Keane reports from Syon Park, London ​

‘MESSY MONDAY’ is traditionally a day of excitement in Lions history.

Warren Gatland’s 41-man squad gathered en masse at the luxurious Syon Park resort in London this morning to get fitted and kitted out ahead of next month’s 10-match odyssey in New Zealand. From cufflinks to training gear, personalised iPads to after dinner suits, it’s a day when ​the chosen ​players meet for the first time and begin the feel the buzz of becoming a Lion.

This morning’s gathering, however, had a subdued feel following the withdrawal of Ben Youngs from the squad over the weekend.

Leicester Tigers released a statement on Saturday stating that the wife of Youngs’ brother, Tom, ​is suffering from a terminal form of cancer with the England scrum-half deciding to withdraw from the tour party. Tom and Ben ​Youngs ​both toured with the Lions in Australia four years ago. Ben will now stay behind to support his brother and Leicester team-mate through a hugely difficult time.

​”​It was really tough,​” said Gatland on Youngs’ situation.

​​He rang me on Saturday after the (Leicester) game to explain the situation. Obviously, our thoughts go out to Tom, Tiffany and Maisie as well… we’ve known that Tiffany has been sick for a while. From our point of view, it was a tough conversation.

“The interesting thing from my point of view is we fully respect and understand that and part of the values that I’ve always had and would be saying to the players, when we meet this afternoon, as far as I’m concerned, it’s family comes first.

He’s made that decision and we know how close they are as well and so we fully respect that decision and our thoughts go out to them and to everyone.’

With Youngs staying at home, Gatland ​has ​called up Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw to fill the ​vacant half-back slot. ​​

The Gloucester scrum-half was present at Syon Park this afternoon and the Lions head coach admitted it was an easy decision to call on Laidlaw, who will join Conor Murray and Rhys Webb as the three scrum-halves reporting for duty in New Zealand.

“Having spoken to Ben, it was a relatively easy call. I spoke with Gregor Townsend and David Humphreys as well and then I made a phone ​c​all to Greig Laidlaw.

“Look, ​he’s someone that we discussed. The fact that he had been injured and hadn’t taken part in the Six Nations was probably one of the reasons that he wasn’t in the original squad.

Obviously, it’s not ideal for him under the circumstances, but I think the good point is he’s now here from day one so that makes it a little easier.’

“Given his experience and his leadership, I’m sure he’ll fit in really well and do a really good job.”

Despite injury concerns over skipper Sam Warburton and Dan Biggar, Gatland delivered a positive injury update on the health of his squad.

“At the moment, we’ve pretty much got a clean bill of health.

They’re all basically fit not to play. The thing with the modern game is everyone is carrying knocks from week to week.

“We’re pretty pleased with where everyone is in the squad at the moment. There are no real injury concerns.”

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