Ben Youngs drops out of Lions squad to support his family following sister-in-law's terminal cancer diagnosis
PUBLISHED: 08:39 07 May 2017 | UPDATED: 09:49 07 May 2017
Norfolk rugby star Ben Youngs has decided to withdraw from this summer's British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand to remain close to his family, due to his sister-in-law being given a terminal cancer diagnosis.
The wife of Youngs’ older brother, Tom, has been battling illness for three years but the situation has sadly taken a turn for the worse.
Leicester Tigers have released a statement this evening providing details of Ben’s decision to not travel with the Lions this summer.
The former Holt and North Walsham juniors have played for Leicester for all of their professional careers so far, with 30-year-old Tom taking on the club captaincy this season.
“We are a very close family and, as I am sure everyone can respect, time is now precious together,” Ben said in the 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 & 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 Britain and Ireland, hope they have a successful tour.”
The former Gresham’s School pupils both started Leicester’s 28-23 victory at Worcester earlier today, which confirmed fourth place in the Aviva Premiership table and a place in the end-of-season play-offs.
This has set up a semi-final at table-topping Wasps on Saturday, May 20 and the Youngs brothers are intending to see out the season with their club.
The statement concludes: “Tom and Ben will still play their part in the remainder of the season for the Tigers.
“Both families hope their privacy can be respected at this difficult time. There will be no further comment from Tom, Ben or from Leicester Tigers at this point.”
The brothers grew up on the family farm near Aylsham and toured Australia with the Lions four years ago, with hooker Tom and scrum-half Ben both playing important roles in the tour victory over the Wallabies.
Tom opted to drop out of England’s tour of New Zealand in the summer of 2014 though following his wife’s diagnosis and spoke later that year about the situation.
“The illness would have been a major distraction and although Tiffany wanted me to go I took it upon myself to say that it wasn’t the right thing for me to do,” he told the Telegraph.
“It was a no-brainer really. It was something of the unknown we were going into. As much as she said she was alright, she needed my support.
“As a husband, I needed to give that support. It was all an incredibly big shock. It is one hell of a thing to have to take on the chin. Being away in New Zealand, just at the start of the stuff, would have been very hard to deal with. You are so far away, there are time differences to factor in, and it wouldn’t have worked.”
Tom returned to the England squad for the Rugby World Cup on home soil in the autumn of 2015 but has not added to his 28 England caps since that tournament.
His younger brother, 27-year-old Ben, remains a prominent part of the England set up though and has racked up 70 caps. He was named in the 41-man Lions touring party last month but has now taken the understandable decision to remain at home and support his family.
Following the news, Lions head coach Warren Gatland 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.”
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw has been called up in place of Youngs. Ten tour matches are planned between June 10 and July 8, concluding with three highly anticipated Tests against dominant world champions New Zealand.
Ben and Tom’s father, Nick, also played for Leicester Tigers and was capped six times by England.