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

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Knee injury - England lock Joe Launchbury is out of contention for the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa

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 league victory over Bath.

The usual recovery period for the injury is between six to nine months.

Launchbury, capped 69 times, missed this year's Six Nations 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 on May 6, will now have to look elsewhere for second-row options.

Lions bosses said on Tuesday they had reached an agreement with Premiership clubs over the 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 sides said even those players not involved in the tournament final -- also on June 26 -- might not be released as the Brave Blossoms match fell outside World Rugby's designated Test window.

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

"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."

Gatland welcomed the agreement by saying: "I would like to thank Premiership Rugby, as well as Pro 14, for their support in agreeing to release players for the Lions.

"I have always said that preparation is key to a successful Lions Tour, so today's news is very welcome and something we are appreciative of," he added.

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