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'The guy was going to run the story anyway, you might as well tell him why'

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Ben Youngs has spoken for the first time about his proactive decision to take control of the story that he will not be touring with the 2021 Lions in South Africa. Ahead of the 37-strong squad announcement by Warren Gatland on May 6, the centurion England scrum-half learned that the revelation he wouldn’t be travelling was about to be published in a Sunday newspaper four days beforehand. 

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Rather than allow this shock to come into the public domain unfettered and leave the reasons behind his decision not to tour be subject to ambiguous speculation, Youngs contacted the newspaper that was set to print the story and he gave them the exact reason as to why he had told Gatland he couldn’t be considered for selection on a tour he was expected to go on.  

This approach by Youngs, who had received a ‘Save the Date’ letter from the Lions some weeks earlier, resulted in much compassion being shown towards the 31-year-old and his decision to opt-out of a Lions tour for the second successive time. 

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Having toured Australia with the Lions in 2013, Youngs dropped out of the 2017 trip to New Zealand after being picked in Gatland’s original squad. A medical situation with the wife of his Leicester-playing brother Tom was the reason why Youngs opted to put family first on that occasion and rather and allow a similar situation to develop the second time around where he could be picked and then pull out, Youngs told Gatland he was unavailable pre-selection and that he shouldn’t be considered. 

Speaking a little over four weeks on from that ‘unavailable’ story becoming public in the Mail on Sunday in advance of the 2021 squad selection, Youngs explained to RugbyPass his rationale about controlling the media narrative ahead of the selection announcement where Conor Murray, Ali Price and Gareth Davies became Gatland’s three chosen scrum-halves.   

“The Lions is a huge thing and rightly so, it’s steeped in history and it’s something I am very proud of having played for the Lions,” he said when quizzed during an appearance at this week’s Leicester media briefing. “When I got told that some source had found out that I had opted out and they were going to run a story, my point was that is very important because they can take that whichever direction they want and it was important that I got the reasons, that I got to speak on my behalf. 

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“The guy was going to run the story anyway, you might as well tell him why. So that was the theory behind that and for me, I wanted to make it really clear because, like I say, it [the Lions] is a wonderful tradition and in no way did I want that up to interpretation. 

“For me, it was about a decision with having two young kids, a third on the way, having a long summer, a long time with playing and just the best decision for me, for my wife, for my family, for my body, for my mind, all those bits, you weigh it all up and I came to a clear decision and it was important to do that [explain why]. 

“And in terms of the reception back here, Steve (Borthwick, Leicester boss) was unbelievably supportive. I spoke to him, I wanted to speak to him and make him aware. In no way did he influence my decision. I had already made my decision.

“I was more making him aware that this is what I’m thinking and this is what I’d like to do and he said yeah, that’s absolutely fine as long as you are comfortable with that and it looks like you have thought it all through and then that’s not a problem. All you want is that support from the people around you and they have been nothing but supportive.”

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'The guy was going to run the story anyway, you might as well tell him why'

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