Saints hooker Hartley still has Lions chance, says Gatland

Dylan Hartley (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Dylan Hartley (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Warren Gatland has refused to rule Saints hooker Dylan Hartley out of the running for the British & Irish Lions captaincy.

Hartley has led England to 13 wins from as many matches since taking over as skipper back in January.

But he has only played nine times for Saints in the calendar year and was sent off after just six minutes of his club comeback last Friday.

After being introduced as a replacement in the 51st minute, Hartley was shown a red card by referee Jerome Garces for striking Leinster flanker Sean O’Brien in the face with a swinging arm.

Saints lost the Champions Cup clash 37-10 and Hartley, who has been banned for a total of 54 weeks during his career, now faces a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday (December 14) to discover how lengthy his ban will be.

But when asked whether the player’s indicretion had put an end to his chances of leading the Lions in New Zealand next summer, Gatland said: “Absolutely not.

“I don’t think it’s about ruling anyone out - it’s so early to be thinking that far ahead.

“There are a number of people who will be in contention for a potential captain’s role, but it is about picking the squad first.

“There is a lot of water to go under the bridge before those sort of things are finalised.

“To be fair to Dylan, in the last 12 months he has had a great track record and you have to feel for him.

“Hopefully he will take his punishment and get back for the Six Nations and hope he goes well.”

Gatland added: “The media make a big deal about the captaincy, it’s like a bigger story than anything else.

“I have stressed all along that the first priority is to pick the squad - once you get the squad right then you can think about the captain afterwards.

“You have to think of the ramifications of picking a captain - you choose one and the other one or two players in the same position immediately feel disenfranchised and think ‘he’s captain so he is going to be starting in all the big games and in the Test matches’.

“Ideally you pick a captain who you think is good enough to start in those Test matches but there are no guarantees -form is paramount and whoever does get selected as captain on tour, their form has to be good enough for them to start.

“Hartley has played very well for England but a lot of people have spoken about other hookers - Rory Best and Jamie George who has been going great for Saracens. George is someone who has been putting pressure on Dylan as well.”