Rory Best called up to Lions squad after Dylan Hartley banned for 11 weeks

England hooker found guilty of verbal abuse towards Wayne Barnes during Saturday’s Aviva Premiership final, O'Mahony to lead Ireland on summer tour


Ireland’s Rory Best has been called up to the British & Irish Lions squad after England hooker Dylan Hartley was banned for 11 matches this morning.

The Lions leave tomorrow ahead of Saturday’s meeting with the Barbarians in Hong Kong and the former Ulster captain will be among them - having been “deperately unlucky” to miss out in the first place - despite the fact Hartley can still appeal the sanction he received for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in Leicester’s 37-17 Aviva Premiership final victory at Twickenham yesterday.

“With uncertainty over the availability of Dylan Hartley to tour, and with the first of 10 matches only days away we had no option but to call up the additional player,” Lions tour manager Andy Irvine said this afternoon. “Despite the circumstances we should congratulate Rory, who will join the squad tomorrow and fly with us to Hong Kong.

“A final decision on whether Dylan Hartley will take any part in the tour will depend on the outcome of any potential appeal.”

Best’s inclusion brings the Irish contingent on the tour to 10 and drops England’s to nine, while it also means Munster's Peter O'Mahony will lead the Irish team on the summer tour to the USA and Canada.

“It hasn’t fully sunk in yet, it is hard to describe because it is the ultimate for a rugby player,” Best told the Ulster Rugby website on Sunday evening. “To finally be selected makes playing professional rugby worthwhile. All the lows that you get and the knocks and bumps, it more than makes up for them and for a few weeks ago when I thought that the chance had gone.”

Best is now targeting a place in the Test side. "I am as ambitious as everyone else. To be on the tour is unbelievable, but you have to go there and play your best rugby, put your hand up and see where that takes you.”

Hartley allegedly called Barnes a “f****** cheat” and the Rugby Football Union confirmed the suspension on Sunday morning.

Hartley pleaded not guilty at the hearing, which was held at the Epsom Downs Holiday Inn. The England international argued after the match, via Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder, that his comments had been aimed at Leicester hooker Tom Youngs after a scrum had collapsed and the Tigers had been awarded a penalty.

Two minutes before that incident, Barnes had warned Hartley he would take action if the player made any further comments the official felt were directed at him.

The three-man disciplinary panel, chaired by Judge Jeff Blackett, found Hartley guilty of a mid-range offence. He is free to play again on September 1st. The suspension also covers three pre-season friendlies for Northampton.

Judge Blackett said: “We cannot get around the fact that Wayne Barnes was certain that Mr Hartley’s comments were directed at him. Wayne Barnes said that if he had had any doubt in his mind, then he would have given the player the benefit of the doubt. In terms of sanction, calling a referee a cheat is an attack on his integrity and contrary to the core values of rugby and therefore we have taken a serious view and provided a serious sanction.”

Hartley has won 47 caps for England and he captained his adopted country against South Africa last summer but his career has been chequered by disciplinary incidents.

In 2007, Hartley was hit with a 26-week ban after being found guilty of eye-gouging Wasps forwards James Haskell and Jonny O’Connor in an Aviva Premiership match. In March 2012, Hartley was banned for eight weeks for biting Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris in a Six Nations match. In December he was suspended for two weeks for punching Best in a Heineken Cup match.

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