The British and Irish Lions have suffered a major blow ahead of their eagerly anticipated summer trip to New Zealand, with Billy Vunipola forced to withdraw from contention due to a lingering shoulder injury.

The bulldozing number eight, who recently helped Saracens to successfully defend their European title against Clermont Auvergne, was clearly dealing with the issue during a pulsating 18-16 Aviva Premiership semi-final defeat to Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park on Saturday (20 May).

Vunipola has been replaced in the 41-man touring squad by England teammate James Haskell, who will join up with the Lions following next weekend's winner-takes-all clash between Wasps and Exeter at Twickenham.

"It is really disappointing for Billy and we know how much he was looking forward to joining the squad," head coach Warren Gatland said.

"He has been carrying an injury and feels he wouldn't be able to contribute fully to the Tour and needs further medical treatment.

"We really appreciate his honesty in making this decision and wish him luck with his recovery. We have called up James to the squad, we wish him all the best next weekend and look forward to welcoming him into camp before we depart."

Vunipola becomes the second England international to withdraw from Lions duty. Earlier this month, scrum-half Ben Youngs was replaced by Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw after learning that the wife of elder brother Tom was terminally ill.

Gatland and co are due to fly to New Zealand on 29 May and will begin their 10-match, three-Test tour with an opening fixture against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians at Toll Stadium in Whangarei on Saturday 3 June.

News of any further withdrawals should become apparent over the coming days after 30 members of the squad convened at Carton House near Dublin over the weekend and were subject to "routine medical screening".

Billy Vunipola
Billy Vunipola will play no part in this summer's Lions tour to New Zealand Reuters