Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw has been called into the squad for the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand this summer after original selection Ben Youngs withdrew for family reasons.
Youngs, the Leicester and England scrum-half and a 2013 Lions tourist to Australia, announced yesterday through his club he would stay at home to be with his brother Tom – also a 2013 Lion – and their wider family after it was revealed his sister-in-law had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Laidlaw (31), the captain of Scotland at the start of this year’s RBS Six Nations, was announced as Youngs’ replacement by the Lions head coach Warren Gatland.
“We fully understand and respect Ben’s decision to stay at home,” said Gatland. “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.”
Leicester Tigers released a statement on behalf of Youngs after their final Aviva Premiership regular season game yesterday.
“We are a very close family and, as I am sure everyone can respect, time is now precious together,” said Youngs.
“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.”
Laidlaw had been expected to lead Scotland in their summer tour to Australia, Singapore and Fiji in a squad announced by new national head coach Gregor Townsend on Monday.
The scrum-half has recently recovered from the ankle ligament injury he suffered in Paris in Scotland’s second Six Nations game having led his country to victory over Ireland in the opening game at BT Murrayfield.
He returned for club Gloucester in the past fortnight and is expected to lead them in the European Challenge Cup final against Stade Francais at BT Murrayfield on Friday.
Laidlaw has 59 caps and has scored 582 points for Scotland. He had been tipped as a possible “dirt-tracker” captain and kicker for the Lions but was edged out in the original scrum half selection by Ireland’s Conor Murray, Wales’ Rhys Webb and Youngs.
The Jedburgh man will again follow in the footsteps his uncle Roy, who as well as being Scotland scrum-half and captain in the 1980s toured with the Lions to New Zealand in 1983, playing in 13 games including all four tests.
He will, be the third Scottish player in the Lions touring party along with full-back Stuart Hogg and wing Tommy Seymour.