When referee Wayne Barnes brandished the red card to Dylan Hartley for abusive language in Saturday’s Aviva Premiership final, the Northampton captain’s heart must have stopped.
Not only had he severely hindered his team’s chances of lifting silverware, but he had ruled himself out the Lions tour – not an opportunity he is likely to get again.
On the face of it, an 11-week ban may seem harsh for a couple of ill-chosen words. To the letter of the rugby law book, however, it is exactly right – you could even argue a little generous, given Hartley’s less-than-exemplary disciplinary record to date.
The upside of Hartleygate is that the man who should have been in the initial squad and who, along with Chris Robshaw, topped the list of those who could feel most aggrieved at missing out, will now be on tour. Rory Best of Ulster and Ireland will get his chance at starring in the famous red jersey.
Competition for the hooker shirt will be fierce, with Tom Youngs again going well at the weekend for Leicester in the final. In fact, given that Hartley alleges his expletive-laden rant was aimed at Youngs, Best may well pull him aside and buy him a subtle pint at some point.
Richard Hibbard was also excellent for Wales during the Six Nations, but what Best has over these two is experience. He has been around the game for a long time, one of the things that would have counted in Hartley’s favour in the first place. So do not be surprised to see Best featuring in the tests, if not as a starter then from the bench.
The question everyone has been asking this week is ‘what the hell was Hartley thinking?’ and for good reason.
He had been warned a few minutes earlier in the game about his language, and so even if his sentiments weren’t aimed at referee Barnes, he can have no qualms about being sent from the field. It is simply not how you act as a captain in a final.
He is no doubt beating himself up about it every minute of every day now, so let’s hope he comes back from it a wiser player. With an already poor disciplinary record, he must soon be on his last warning.
Looking to the positives though, the man many regarded as the right option originally is now on the tour, and in time to bond with the rest of the squad too. Let’s hope he forgets his early omission and makes the best of it.
Was the ban for Hartley right? Or self-defeating for the Lions?
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