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'Ambitious' Best eyeing Lions Test berth after replacing banned Hartley in squad


Geordan Murphy Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Geordan Murphy Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Northampton's Dylan Hartley Picture: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

Northampton's Dylan Hartley Picture: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

Ulster's Rory Best Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire.

Ulster's Rory Best Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire.


Geordan Murphy Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Ireland hooker Rory Best has been called into the British and Irish Lions squad for the tour of Hong Kong and Australia.

The Lions turned to Best after Dylan Hartley was banned for 11 weeks after being found guilty of verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes (he called Barnes a "f****** cheat) in Northampton's 37-17 Aviva Premiership final defeat to Leicester, Geordan Murphy's last game for the Tigers.

A final decision on Hartley's participation in the Lions tour will be dependent on the outcome of any potential appeal. Best, who had been appointed Ireland captain for the summer tour of north America, was set to link up with the Lions today ahead of their flight to Hong Kong. Peter O'Mahony is now set to take over the Ireland captaincy.

"It hasn't fully sunk in yet. It is hard to describe because it is the ultimate for a rugby player," said Best.

"To finally be selected makes playing professional rugby worthwhile. All the lows that you get and the knocks and bumps, it more than makes up for them and for a few weeks when I thought that the chance had gone.

"There will be 37 players getting on a plane to Hong Kong aiming to make the Test squad and I am no different. I am as ambitious as everyone else.

"To be on the tour is unbelievable, but you have to go there and play your best rugby, put your hand up and see where that takes you."

Irish and Lions talisman Brian O'Driscoll has given his backing to the decision to draft in Best.

"He's probably first in line as the most deserving just because of how important he has been for Ulster and even more so for Ireland over the last number of years," said O'Driscoll.

"I think Rory (inset) is going to be a fantastic replacement."

The Lions play their first match against the Barbarians on Saturday.

Cian Healy, a permanent fixture alongside Best in the Irish front row, welcomed the news of his team-mate's call-up.

"Best is a great addition to any squad and him being there will help me because I've worked with him before," said Healy, speaking at the Lions farewell dinner at the Royal Courts of Justice.

"He's an unreal player and fully deserves to be called up. He's a great guy who gets involved in all sorts of team stuff and is a good leader.

"I thought he would have been in the original squad but it was a tight call and there are a lot of good hookers there. I'm really happy to see him benefiting from what's happened."

Lions head coach Warren Gatland said: "When we picked the squad it was very, very tough. The decision on the hookers was by far the longest debate we had.

"Rory was very, very unlucky to miss out.

"One man's disappointment is another man's fortune and I am sure he will come in and do a great job.

"In previous tours, when players have had that chance they have come in and made the most of it. He has the chance to do that."

England coach Stuart Lancaster, meanwhile, will have to be convinced that he can trust Hartley before he selects him for England again.

This latest punishment is the third significant suspension of Hartley's chequered career, following a 26-week ban for eye-gouging and an eight-week penalty for biting Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris.

Lancaster, who is looking to select his 2013/14 elite squad in August, will not speak to Hartley until he returns from England's tour of Argentina.

"Selection for all players is based on three things: form, fitness and the trust that you have that they can operate in the international arena," he said.

"He is no different to anyone else and all that will be taken into account for our next selection. There's competition for places with lads like Rob (Webber), (David) Paice and Rob Buchanan who are all going to push.

"I will pick up conversations with all the players who aren't with us after the tour. I am sure he will be hurting deeply, but that's the way it is: if you transgress, then there's a price to pay.

"Collectively, what we have always talked about in England since I have been in charge is that if you don't have a rigorous approach to being disciplined then you hurt yourself and you hurt the team."