Gatland backs Best to make the most of his Lions chance

BRITISH and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has tipped hooker Rory Best to prove he should have been included in the original 37-man squad to tour Australia, after being called up to replace the disgraced Dylan Hartley.

Hartley was sent off during Northampton’s 37-17 Aviva Premiership final defeat to Leicester on Saturday, after calling referee Wayne Barnes a “xxxxing cheat”.

Subsequently, the 27-year-old England star has been handed an 11-week ban, making him ineligible for the Lions three-Test tour Down Under this summer.

It means a second chance for Best, capped 67 times for Ireland, who flew to Hong Kong with the rest of the squad last night ahead of Saturday’s warm-up match against the Barbarians.

“As soon as Dylan was ruled out he [Best] was the obvious choice, it was not even something we had to talk about,” said Gatland.

“Everything that’s been written and people saying how unlucky he’s been [to miss out on the original squad] is 100 per cent correct, because I had those doubts initially myself.

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

■ 1 June: v Barbarians

■ 5 June: v Western Force

■ 8 June: v Queensland Reds

■ 11 June: Combined NSW-QLD

■ 15 June: NSW Waratahs

■ 18 June: ACT Brumbies

■ 22 June: Australia (first Test)

■ 25 June: Melbourne Rebels

■ 29 June: Australia (second Test)

■ 6 July: v Australia (third Test)