Newly appointed British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has already been taking stock of his potential captains for next summer’s tour of New Zealand and has alluded to Dylan Hartley’s leadership qualities, writes Gavin Spillane.
Coach of the victorious Lions team of 2013, Gatland praised the England captain’s vastly improved disciplinary record, saying he has “matured” in recent years.
"He hasn't been suspended for a while. That's a big tick against his name."
"Dylan has always played on the edge and that has been one of the traits that has made him such a competitor as a player," the Kiwi said.
England- yet to lose a game since Hartley’s appointment last January- are currently the pick of the four home nations. Gatland admits that a team’s success can make the Lions squad selection a smoother process.
"It's easier to select players who are coming in from a winning environment with a lot of confidence. It's the same when you are picking captains.
"There are players you're familiar with, that you have been leading already, that has certain advantages. Have you been on previous tours? There are lots of considerations.
"Apart from obvious names, there will be quite a few others [who] come into consideration by the end of the season."
The Northampton hooker was selected for the last tour to Australia but missed out through suspension for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the Premiership final against Leicester Tigers.
The 2017 Lions begin their tour of New Zealand on June 3. Gatland’s charges will play 10 matches in total, including three Tests against the All Blacks and five matches against Super Rugby teams and a clash with the Maori All Blacks.
The backroom staff is set to be announced in December before the squad and captain is expected to be unveiled around mid-April.