Leicester and England scrum-half Ben Youngs has pulled out of the Lions squad due to family illness.

The Tigers announced on their website that the wife of Youngs' brother Tom, who is also a Leicester player, is suffering from terminal cancer, prompting the 27-year-old to withdraw from Warren Gatland's team for the upcoming tour of New Zealand.

"We are a very close family and, as I am sure everyone can respect, time is now precious together," Youngs said.

"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."

Scotland and Gloucester scrum-half Greig Laidlaw will tour in Youngs' place.

Youngs was one of three scrum-halves picked in the 41-man squad and had a strong chance of being involved in the Test series against the All Blacks.

The 27-year-old has amassed 70 caps for England and won a further two for the Lions during their 2-1 triumph over Australia in 2013, starting the second international in Melbourne.

Gatland was informed of the decision this week. Both Youngs brothers will continue to play in Leicester's season-ending play-off campaign.

"It is a great honour to be selected as a member of the Lions squad," Youngs said.

"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 statement released by Leicester added: "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."

Gatland, meanwhile, has offered his support to the family.

The Lions head coach 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."

The on-field loss of Youngs has been partially offset by the return to fitness of Conor Murray, who travels to New Zealand as first-choice scrum-half.

Murray played 28 minutes of Munster's 50-14 Guinness Pro12 win over Connacht at Thomond Park, making his first appearance since suffering shoulder-related nerve damage while on Ireland duty almost two months ago.

Gatland had stated that Murray must prove his fitness before embarking for New Zealand and he has a further two matches to prove he is ready to face the All Blacks.


Dan Biggar, Elliot Daly, Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Leigh Halfpenny, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart Hogg, Jonathan Joseph, Conor Murray, George North, Jack Nowell, Jared Payne, Jonathan Sexton, Tommy Seymour, Ben Te'o, Anthony Watson, Rhys Webb, Liam Williams, Greig Laidlaw 

Rory Best, Dan Cole, Taulupe Faletau, Tadhg Furlong, Jamie George, Iain Henderson, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler, Jack McGrath, Ross Moriarty, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, Ken Owens, Kyle Sinckler, CJ Stander, Justin Tipuric, Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Sam Warburton.