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Lions pass Gatland's fitness inspection

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 22/05/2017 By Andrew Baldock

<span style="font-size:13px;">The British and Irish Lions have received a boost with coach Warren Gatland declaring them fully fit and ready to tour New Zealand.</span> © AP/Alastair Grand The British and Irish Lions have received a boost with coach Warren Gatland declaring them fully fit and ready to tour New Zealand. Warren Gatland has delivered a positive squad fitness bulletin as the British and Irish Lions continued New Zealand tour preparations without England powerhouse Billy Vunipola.

The Lions were dealt a crushing injury blow on Sunday when Saracens No.8 Vunipola withdrew from the trip due to an ongoing shoulder problem that will require surgery.

While Vunipola has been replaced by Wasps flanker James Haskell, Lions head coach Gatland said fitness levels were "pretty good" elsewhere among the 30 players at a pre-tour training camp in Ireland.

Wales hooker Ken Owens (ankle), Leinster loose forward Sean O'Brien (calf) and Ospreys halfback Rhys Webb (groin) missed last weekend's PRO12 play-off action, while Leinster prop Jack McGrath's arm x-ray come back all clear.

"I think we are pretty good," Gatland said. "The guys are making good progress."

Vunipola, one of the most destructive forwards in world rugby, was likely to have been an integral part of the Lions' Test series victory bid.

He delivered a magnificent display when Saracens retained the European Champions Cup by beating French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne nine days ago.

The 24-year-old was viewed as a major player in Gatland's squad, although the coach still has the world-class ability of Wales No.8 Taulupe Faletau at his disposal, plus Munster's CJ Stander and Welsh international Ross Moriarty.

"Any player who gets injured at this time is a big loss to the squad," Gatland said.

"I spoke to Billy, and he just felt that he couldn't give us 100 per cent.

"I did try and persuade him to come over and be assessed, but he was adamant he wasn't right. He is a big loss to us, but I fully understand the decision he made to not go on the tour."

Haskell, who has won 75 caps, is set to be involved for Wasps in the Aviva Premiership final against Exeter next Saturday.

He will join the Lions squad the following day.

"He will be great for us. He brings a personality to a squad. I think he will be a real positive addition," Gatland said.

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