Baffling remarks from Warren Gatland as Dylan Hartley remains in Lions captaincy contention 3 years ago

Baffling remarks from Warren Gatland as Dylan Hartley remains in Lions captaincy contention

Surely Warren Gatland himself doesn't believe what he's saying.

Dylan Hartley will discover Wednesday the length of the ban which he will face for shamefully striking Leinster's Sean O'Brien at the weekend.

Hartley's latest on-field indiscretion is likely to lead to a lengthy ban for the England captain and as a result, rightfully put his aspirations to lead the Lions next summer into major doubt.

However it seems that, Lions head coach, Warren Gatland, has extended an olive branch to Hartley as he refused to exclude the hooker from Lions captaincy contention.

"Absolutely not, I don't think it's about ruling anyone out - it's so early to be thinking that far ahead," Gatland said to Sky Sports.

The Lions head coach further added that the first decision is about picking a squad of players and subsequently the captain based on the panel of players chosen.

"There are a number of people who will be in contention for a potential captain's role. But it is about picking the squad first. There is a lot of water to go under the bridge before those sort of things are finalised."

Gatland then addresses the Hartley situation directly and references his good disciplinary record over the 12 months prior to the incident with O'Brien.

"To be fair to Dylan in the last 12 months he has had a great track record and you have to feel for him. Hopefully he will take his punishment and get back for the Six Nations and hope he goes well."

We can possibly forgive Gatland for stating a generic media friendly comment about not wanting to rule anyone out or about there being plenty of rugby to be played between now and captain decision time.

But to state that Hartley is warranting of people's empathy is absolutely bewildering.

This isn't the first high profile figure in rugby to come out in defence of Hartley, Ian McGeechan has also defended the Northampton star.

Previous comments from Gatland have mentioned how the Six Nations will be vital in determining who he picks for the Lions, perhaps more so than the performance of the home nations during the November Internationals.

In a way, you wonder what Gatland really wants from the disciplinary hearing.

Does he want Hartley to receive a ban which which rules him out of the majority of the Six Nations - and as a result, relieves Gatland of making a controversial decision.

Or does he want the opposite - a ban which gives Hartley one more chance in the Six Nations to prove that he should be selected.

Either way, we believe there is plenty more to come from this on-going saga.