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)