Dylan Hartley may have some room to be aggrieved at being left out of the Lions squad that are preparing to tour the country of his birth, no less than a month after captaining England to a second successive Six Nations title. Further to his chagrin, his deputy in hooker duty, Jamie George, will get aboard the plane in the summer.
England coach Eddie Jones, under whom Hartley has played and performed consistently, was public in his warm regard for the hooker, and openly endorsed him as a potential leader when he first took the mantle from Stuart Lancaster.
But Warren Gatland represents a different personality altogether. A man who has previous experience in managing national talent and big names, before the tour of New Zealand gets underway. Gatland must go with what he already knows. The majority of his Lions are in fact English (almost a third of them), but the core of his forwards are Welsh. Gatland cannot assemble a pack lacking in cohesion to face possibly the mightiest attacking force in world rugby.
In Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faleteau, and Alun-Wyn Jones, Gatland has a reliable, battle hardened trio of force. He then has the luxury of integrating the rest of his forward pack around the three, including hooker Rory Best and prop Sean O’Brien from Ireland, not to mention the formidable group of England starters; Maro Itoje, Joe Marler, Dan Cole and Courtney Lawes.
For Hartley, he is still a man looked on less than favourably by some critics, who do not really believe the agggressive, detrimental hell-raiser of old has vanished. He is still the man who missed the last Lions tour for abusing an official. He missed an entire World Cup due to headbutting fellow hooker George during a game between Northampton and Saracens, and has further been cited for biting and gouging down the years.
There is no doubt this will have been an enormous factor in Gatland’s desire to invoke harmony within his squad, as well as the recognition the majority of his players have with each other. An almighty bulk of this group took to the Lions tour of 2013 and emerged victorious. Gatland was always going to stick, rather than twist, his winning formula, and Hartley was, with some sad inevitability given his attempts at reforming, a bogey card to play.