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Youngs out of Lions tour because of sister-in-law's illness

© AFP/File | England's Ben Youngs at Twickenham stadium in south-west London on December 3, 2016

LONDON (AFP) - 

Ben Youngs has withdrawn from the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand because of his sister-in-law's terminal illness, the England scrum-half's club, Leicester, announced Saturday.

The wife of Ben's older brother Tom, himself a Leicester and England hooker, has been suffering with cancer for three years.

Saturday's statement from Leicester said "the family has now received the devastating news that the illness is terminal".

Ben Youngs, who made two Test appearances for the Lions during their victorious tour of Australia four years ago, had been selected in coach Warren Gatland's 41-man squad for the combined side's three-Test series away to world champions New Zealand on the back of starring for Six Nations kings England this season.

But he informed the New Zealander of his decision to withdraw this weekend.

"We are a very close family and, as I am sure everyone can respect, time is now precious together,? said the 27-year-old Ben Youngs.

"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," added Youngs, who has won 70 England caps.

"It is a great honour to be selected as a member of the British and Irish Lions squad and 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 British and Ireland, hope they have a successful tour."

Saturday saw Leicester secure their place in the title-deciding English Premiership play-offs and the Tigers said both Youngs brothers would still play the remainder of the domestic season for the Midlands club.

"Both families hope their privacy can be respected at this difficult time," said the club statement.

"There will be no further comment from Tom, Ben or from Leicester Tigers at this point."

The Lions have yet to announce if they will call up a replacement scrum-half.

© 2017 AFP