Sympathy for Billy Vunipola as James Haskell readies himself to realise childhood British and Irish Lions dream

Ross McLean
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Haskell is set to feature for Wasps in Saturday's Premiership final (Source: Getty)

England flanker James Haskell insists he is on the cusp of realising a boyhood dream after being called into Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad following Billy Vunipola’s withdrawal due to injury.

Haskell’s addition to the squad was confirmed on Sunday evening after Vunipola was forced to drop out of the travelling party to New Zealand in order to receive further medical treatment on an ongoing shoulder problem.

The call up was bittersweet for Haskell, a former Wasps team-mate of Vunipola and current colleague at international level.

“It’s a bit of a mixed one for me because Billy Vunipola is a good friend of mine and he’s an incredible player,” said Haskell. “He’s probably one of the best No8s, if not the best No8, in the world at the moment.

“I’ve had the opportunity and I’m very humbled because it’s been a childhood dream of mine to go on a Lions tour.

“I had a missed call from Warren and I wondered what I’d done wrong. But I called him back and he told me Billy had been injured and asked if I wanted to go on tour.

“I said ‘yes please’ and he asked me if I was sure. I said I was definitely sure, even if it’s just carrying the bags and that was it really. I called Billy and told him I was gutted for him and I’m very sad that he’s not there.”

Haskell missed the first half of the season due to a toe injury but returned to play his part as England retained their Six Nations title in March. The 32-year-old has also been an integral member of the Wasps side which has reached Saturday’s Premiership final. The Lions tour gets underway on 3 June with a clash against the New Zealand Barbarians.

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