Dy­lan must hope Lions history isn’t re­peated

The Rugby Paper - - Feature -

“Hart­ley can only hope that this time the Eng­land cap­tain will be picked and Ire­land’s left be­hind”

The Lions leave the Eng­land cap­tain at home, pick his Ir­ish coun­ter­part in­stead for the se­ries in New Zealand and end up be­ing white­washed by the All Blacks. That the best player in the po­si­tion finds him­self frozen out by the choice of cap­tain makes the un­happy hook­ers’ tale all the un­hap­pier.

If it sounds strik­ingly rel­e­vant given the nar­ra­tive of the last few days re­volv­ing around Dy­lan Hart­ley, that’s be­cause the Lions have been down this par­tic­u­lar road be­fore.

Only the names have changed. In 1983, Jim Telfer as coach wanted Peter Wheeler of Le­ices­ter and Eng­land as Lions’ cap­tain. Wil­lie John McBride, the tour man­ager, wanted Ciaran Fitzger­ald. The man­ager, not the coach, got what he wanted.

Colin Deans, by com­mon con­sent then the best in the four home coun­tries, made the trip at a time when the Lions took only two hook­ers. Fitzger­ald’s re­fusal to re­lin­quish the cap­taincy of a los­ing team as Mike Camp­bell-Lam­mer­ton had done in New Zealand in 1966, meant Deans sat out the en­tire se­ries on the bench.

“I voted for Colin to re­place Ciaran af­ter the first Test but was out-voted by Wil­lie John and Ciaran,’’ Telfer says in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “I ac­cepted the de­ci­sion but it was dif­fi­cult to have to bite my lip through all four Tests.

“Colin knew he was play­ing bet­ter than Ciaran. Be­fore the third Test he asked: ‘Right, Jim. What’s the score?’ There was noth­ing I could do. It had been a pri­vate de­ci­sion and it stayed that way.’’

For all Telfer’s sup­port, Wheeler was a non-starter. “It was thought that, at 34, he was get­ting on a bit,’’ Telfer said. “Look­ing back, we should prob­a­bly have used his ex­pe­ri­ence as a dou­ble Lions tourist but that would have meant leav­ing out the best hooker (Deans) or the most suc­cess­ful cap­tain of the Five Na­tions (Fitzger­ald).’’

Since Wheeler, a ver­i­ta­ble host of other Eng­land cap­tains have been de­clared sur­plus to re­quire­ments by the Lions – Will Car­ling (Aus­tralia in 1989), Phil de Glanville (South Africa, 1997), Steve Borthwick (South Africa, 2009), Chris Rob­shaw (Aus­tralia, 2013).

Hart­ley (‘I’m not count­ing my chick­ens’) would be in good com­pany. Should he find his name among the cho­sen few when the Lions name their 37 on Wed­nes­day, that will prob­a­bly con­sti­tute more of a sur­prise than if he finds him­self on the out­side look­ing in. There are al­ready three for­mi­da­ble con­tenders at hooker – Ken Owens, the in-form Welsh­man, Jamie Ge­orge, con­sid­ered by many to bet­ter than Hart­ley, and Ire­land’s vet­eran cap­tain, Rory Best.

The durable Ul­ster­man made the last Lions tour as a di­rect con­se­quence of Hart­ley’s folly in abus­ing ref­eree Wayne Barnes dur­ing Northampton’s Grand Fi­nal against Le­ices­ter. That red card led to Best rush­ing straight from Ul­ster’s los­ing PRO12 fi­nal to Le­in­ster and re­plac­ing him on the tour.

Hart­ley can only hope history is not about to re­peat it­self, that this time the Eng­land cap­tain will be picked and Ire­land’s will be the one left be­hind.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Not count­ing his chick­ens: Eng­land cap­tain Dy­lan Hart­ley

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