London - New British and Irish Lions call-up James Haskell admitted
that he is "devastated" for injured England team-mate Billy Vunipola.
The 32-year-old is set for his first tour with side after
being called up on Sunday for Vunipola, who Haskell believes is the best in his
position in the world currently.
Haskell added that he was thrilled to be a part of the
group, but not of the circumstances behind his selection, as he does his best
to focus on this weekend's Premiership final for Wasps against Exeter Chiefs.
And the England veteran admitted that he thought his chance
to represent the Lions had gone after he missed out on the original squad back
"From a personal point of view it is a bit difficult
because Billy is a really good mate of mine," Haskell told reporters.
"He's an unbelievable player and probably the best
number eight in the world.
"I'm devastated for him and it's a huge loss for the
Lions squad as a whole because he has been playing some incredible rugby.
"I'm very sad to see he is not going to be involved
from a fan's point of view, because up until about 16:00 on Sunday I was going to
be a fan.
"I've been given the opportunity to go and I'm
unbelievably excited. I've driven my missus mad because I haven't gone too over
the top because we have such a huge game weekend. This club has waited so long
to get into a Premiership final and I will give 100 percent to that. If I get
through that everything else will take care of itself.
"It has been a childhood dream to be involved in the
Lions that I never thought was going to happen. I had made peace that it wasn't
going to happen.
"Now I have been given that lifeline at the expense of
one of the best players in the world. I'm very happy but I just want to make
sure that I do well for Wasps this weekend. When I was younger I thought finals
grew on trees but they don't.
"The Lions is a complete unknown to me. I'm reduced to
what I suspect is an academy-status Lion. You've got to go there and embrace
everything that it is about.
"I'm just going to be the bloke that tries to fit in
and do whatever I can for the squad.
"Of all the places to go New Zealand is one of the
toughest. Wherever you go everyone gives you a Haka. They say they're welcoming
you but it seems everyone's offering you out for a fight, from the kids aged
five to the OAPs. They say they're welcoming you but it looks like an
aggressive war dance.
"But in all seriousness, they live and breathe their
rugby, I love their passion. Everyone wants to be an All Black, it is a place
where rugby is number-one priority.
"It's going to be hugely exciting, but there's huge
pressure, intensity, scrutiny, and you've got to gather round together as a
squad and deliver performances to be proud of really."