| 15.4°C Dublin

Lions lifeline for Best

Rory Best's chances of making the flight for the Lions tour of Australia will probably hinge on a disciplinary hearing, possibly today, for Northampton Saints hooker Dylan Hartley, who was sent off in his side's Premiership final defeat by Leicester yesterday.

Hartley was sent off late in the first half for allegedly calling referee Wayne Barnes "a f..king cheat," but the player claims his comment was aimed at opposite number Tom Youngs, who is also selected on the Lions tour.

"I asked Dylan at half-time and I've just asked him again: 'What happened? What did you say?' He said he was talking to Tom Youngs," said Saints coach Jim Mallinder.

"If you talk like that to a player, I wouldn't expect anything to happen. Clearly, Wayne Barnes believed Dylan has spoken to him. I support Dylan. He is my captain. If he says he wasn't speaking to the referee and he was speaking to a player on the floor, I can only support what he says."

A spokesman for the Lions said yesterday that if Hartley receives a suspension which was to rule him out of the second match of the tour, against Western Force on June 5, then he would be replaced in the squad.

"Warren Gatland has always indicated that these players (competing in Premiership and Pro12 finals) would not play in the first match against the Barbarians, but they would have to be available for the second match of the tour.

"That is the criteria (sic) for Hartley coming on tour. If he gets a suspension that prevents him from making that second game, then that is where we are."

The entry point for abuse of an official is a six weeks' suspension. Given Hartley's track record, it would require remarkable mitigation to get him inside Gatland's time limit if he fails to convince the judicial officer that his comments were aimed at his opposite number and not the referee.

While the Lions never issued an official standby list, they will fish from the original pool of 50 who were sent letters pre selection. Best was in that group and was considered very unlucky not to make the list of three hookers.

Irish Independent