Monday 14 October 2019

Gatland: Dylan Hartley jumped off a cliff

Duncan Bech

British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland admits that Dylan Hartley had "gone to the edge of the cliff and jumped off" in response to his 11-week ban for abusing referee Wayne Barnes.

Gatland believes that Hartley will not appeal against the suspension, a decision that will rule the England hooker out of the tour to Hong Kong and Australia.

Instead, Ireland's Rory Best will depart with the 37-man squad tonight after being the beneficiary of Hartley's indiscipline.

Hartley called Barnes a "f****** cheat" during Northampton's Aviva Premiership final defeat by Leicester at Twickenham on Saturday.

"Dylan's a young man who has made an unfortunate error," said Gatland at today's departure press conference in Kensington.

"To play the game you have to play on the edge, but unfortunately he's gone to the edge of the cliff and jumped off it. That's the only analogy I can draw.

"I called him yesterday and left a message on his phone. He left a message on my phone today thanking me for the call.

"I was looking forward to working with him and really feel for him. He's made a poor judgement. Hopefully he can put this behind him and move on.

"It's my understanding that he won't be appealing the decision, but that's entirely up to him. He may decide to do that in the next day or so."

Many felt that Best, who has been capped 67 times, should have been selected ahead of Hartley in the original squad announced last month and Gatland agrees that it was a difficult call.

"That decision had been going through my head as well," he said.

"I have no problem admitting that post-selection I had that discussion with myself and said 'Did I make the right call?'

"Everything that's been written and people saying how unlucky he's been is 100% correct because I had those doubts initially myself.

"When we made the selection, the debate on hooker took by far the longest on and was he really unlucky.

"As soon as Dylan was ruled out he was the obvious choice, it was not even something we had to talk about.

"Sometimes fate can intervene and a player who was very unlucky to miss out never has a chance to step up and fight for his place.

"It wouldn't surprise me if later on in the tour he's in contention for a Test spot."

Best had been appointed captain of Ireland's tour to North America and was due to meet up with the squad at their Carton House training camp this morning.

"It was obviously disappointing to lose the RaboDirect PRO12 final to Leinster on Saturday but yesterday I got the call to come along and join the boys," the Ulsterman said.

"It's something you dream of, an absolute honour to be here. I had to pull over on to the hard shoulder to make sure I didn't veer off the road at that stage.

"When you don't make the initial squad you try to stay fit and always keep your phone by your side.

"When the call came through it was a number I didn't recognise. I don't normally answer those but for this I made an exception. It was great news.

"You don't like to dwell on other people's misfortune, but I definitely feel for Dylan and it's bitterly disappointing for him to miss out. That's sport."

Best enjoyed a strong start to the Six Nations but his form fell away later in the Championship with his line-out throwing the area of gravest concern.

The abrasiveness of Hartley decided it in the England front row's favour, but now that Best is heading to Australia he has his sights set on the Test team's number two jersey.

"When the squad was announced that was as low as I've felt. We were training at Ulster at the time and more and more people on our management were avoiding eye contact with me," he said.

"Nobody avoids you when it's good news, so I had an idea from that. It was bitterly disappointing and on that Tuesday afternoon I allowed myself to dwell on it and think deeply about the whole thing.

"But we had a few very important games coming up so it's a case of picking yourself up and dusting yourself down.

"Everyone's here to play in the Test team and I'm no different. It will take a lot of hard work but it's something I'm looking forward to."

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