Injured Launchbury out of Lions contention as player-release deal agreed

London (AFP) –


England lock Joe Launchbury is out of contention for the British and Irish Lions' South Africa tour after Premiership side Wasps announced on Tuesday he had suffered a serious knee injury that would require surgery.

Wasps said the 30-year-old club captain had sustained "a complete rupture" of his anterior cruciate ligament during Sunday's Premiership victory over Bath.

The usual recovery period for this type of injury is between six to nine months.

Launchbury, capped 69 times, was sidelined from England's Six Nations this season with a broken leg but there had been speculation he could yet play his way into Lions coach Warren Gatland's squad for the July-August tour of South Africa.

But Gatland, due to name his squad next week, will now have to look elsewhere for second-row options.

Lions bosses said on Tuesday they had reached agreement with English Premiership clubs over the thorny issue of player release for their pre-tour training camp in Jersey and the warm-up Test against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26.

Initially, Premiership clubs said even those players not involved in the Premiership final -- also on June 26 -- might not be released as the Japan match fell outside World Rugby's designated window for internationals.

Gatland warned that players at top-flight English clubs might harm their chances of Lions' selection if they were unavailable.

But Premiership Rugby Limited has now announced that players will be released when their domestic commitments are finished, enabling them to take part in both the training camp and the Japan match.

"We know how much the Lions tour means to rugby fans and players and we wish the Lions every success," said a Premiership spokesman.

"Throughout the negotiations, Premiership Rugby has sought a solution that works for everyone -- the players, the clubs and the Lions."

Lions chairman Jason Leonard said: "We are very grateful to Premiership Rugby and Pro14 for the release of players after they have concluded their domestic commitments."

The Lions tour will include three Tests against the world champion Springboks, although Covid-19 restrictions may mean they are without their familiar large numbers of travelling supporters in South Africa.