SPIRO’s Lions Tour diary: Losing Hartley strengthens Lions
On the face of it, referee Wayne Barnes had no alternative but to red card Northampton captain, Dylan Hartley, for his ‘f…… cheat’ comment to him during the Aviva Premiership final over the weekend.
The lead-up to the comment involved Barnes ordering a scrum on the Northampton 22 with time up in the first half, after the defending team stuffed up a drop out. The Leicester opposition pack put on a tremendous scrum and smashed the Northampton scrum.
Hartley, infuriated by the series of events, lost his cool and made his infamous accusation.
There is one big thing that need to be understood about the New Zealand born and bred Hartley. He is a Mad Dog player. He has been suspended three times in the past for gouging, biting and striking an opponent. Now comes this fourth suspension.
It has been reported that Hartley has made efforts in the past to curb his inflammable temper. These efforts have included visits to psychologists.
But it is clear from his words to Barnes, that the treatment hasn’t worked.
Hartley has claimed that his words were addressed to his opposition hooker and former Lions team-mate and England rival, Tom Youngs. Barnes is a highly qualified lawyer. He is certain that the abusive comment was directed at him. I would take his word on this.
On reflection, the British and Irish Lions coaching staff will be pleased with the outcome of this disgusting incident.
They lose Hartley and bring into the Lions squad Rory Best, a hooker who should always have been in the team and who is likely to be in the Test side, in my opinion.
Aside from getting a better hooker, the Lions get a player who will fit into the team’s strategy of establishing a rapport with referees in the hope/expectation of gaining kickable penalties.
It’s been pointed out by some experts that the real reason why Sam Warburton has been made captain of the Lions is because he has a terrific record of establishing a comfortable rapport with referees.
So although it is hard on Hartley to be booted out of the Lions squad (but thoroughly deserved), it is a win for the team. The Lions get a better player and someone who is not going to create unpleasant situations on the field to his team and the referees.
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Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.