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The comments that may have cost Billy Vunipola his Lions place

By Ian Cameron
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images )

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Former Wales prop Adam Jones has posited that comments made by England No.8 Billy Vunipola in 2017 may have cost him a place on Warren Gatland’s 2021 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.

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Vunipola was one of a number of big-name omissions from the 37-man squad that was named on Thursday. A lacklustre Six Nations aside, many considered the 6’2, 130kg Saracens’ No.8’s size and power too enticing a prospect for Gatland not to pick him, especially given the ultra physical nature of the Springboks. Instead, Gatland has gone for Toby Faletau, Sam Simmonds and Jack Conan as his No.8s.

Jones thinks it may have been Vunipola’s loose lips and not his so-so form that ultimately ended his chances of making the tour.

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Jim, Andy, Fez and Shanks react to the Lions:
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Jim, Andy, Fez and Shanks react to the Lions:

In the aftermath of the drawn Lions series in New Zealand in 2017, Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien publically criticized Gatland’s management of the tour, which lead to further comments from Vunipola, who had withdrawn from the tour due to a shoulder injury.

Vunipola told the BBC at the time, “I wasn’t there on tour but I guess if he (O’Brien) is saying it and the authority he said it with, he’s probably right.

“For me to sit here and say the Lions would have probably won is wrong. But personally my opinion is that if Eddie Jones went as coach they would have won 3-0. He is that good.

“I don’t know how he would have done it, but Eddie would have found a way. Eddie has changed our mindset at England from always accepting we can’t always be too outspoken and confident and he’s really helped us a team to kick on.”

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Speaking on the House of Rugby Podcast this week, Jones said: “This is what I know about Gats. Billy came out and said Eddie Jones should have coached the last tour and Gats will hold a grudge. There is no chance of it. That’s what I think.”

With injuries inevitable, Vunipola could yet tour of course, yet with no lack of back row options, the Englishman could be well down the pecking order.

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