'Absolutely not': Warren Gatland refuses to rule Dylan Hartley out as Lions captain after dangerous tackle on Sean O'Brien
As Dylan Hartley waits for his punishment to be handed down following his red card last weekend, he can take solace in the words of Lions boss Warren Gatland.
The Northampton hooker's dismissal for a swinging arm on Sean O'Brien - just minutes after coming off the bench against Leinster in the Champions Cup - spawned a glut of reactionary pieces condemning the England star for yet another disciplinary problem.
However, there was a cohort of English pundits - Will Carling, Matt Dawson and Clive Woodward, to name a few - who defended Hartley and urged people not to overreact to his latest indiscretion.
Judging from his comments on Sky Sports, Gatland appears to agree with the latter sentiment, rather than the former.
When asked whether Hartley's upcoming ban will rule him out of being the Lions captain, Gatland was unequivocal.
"Absolutely not, I don't think it's about ruling anyone out - it's so early to be thinking that far ahead," Gatland told the station.
"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."
Hartley is set to discover his fate at a disciplinary hearing this evening.
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