Borthwick backs 'resilient' Hartley to recover from Lions snub

Julian GUYER
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England assistant coach Steve Borthwick, then England skipper, was omitted from the British and Irish Lions squad for their 2009 tour of South Africa

Steve Borthwick knows better than most how Dylan Hartley felt after the England captain was left out of the British and Irish Lions squad for this year's tour of New Zealand on Wednesday.

Borthwick, now an assistant to Lions coach Warren Gatland, suffered a similar fate when, as the then England skipper, he too was omitted from the combined side's squad for their 2009 tour of South Africa.

At the time, Borthwick said he was devastated and he was in no doubt that New Zealand-born hooker Hartley would be equally distraught at missing out on a three-Test series against the world champion All Blacks that starts in June.

"I know that Dylan will be very disappointed not to be selected," said Borthwick.

But the former lock added the experience Hartley had gained through a chequered career that has seen him sidelined for more than a year because of suspension would help him cope with this latest setback.

Hartley had been selected for the 2013 Lions tour of Australia when he was axed from the squad after receiving a ban for calling referee Wayne Barnes a "cheat" during the English Premiership final.

He was also dropped from England's 2015 World Cup squad after headbutting rival England hooker Jamie George -- who is in this year's Lions squad -- in a club match.

“He will be undoubtedly very, very disappointed by it but the thing about Dylan, one thing that’s really struck me is just how resilient he is," said Borthwick, who has got to know Hartley while working as an assistant to England coach Eddie Jones.

"He’s bounced back from a lot of things, he’s a strong character.

"And I've no doubt that's exactly what he will do now."

- 'Spoilt for choice' -

Now 31-year-old Northampton front row Hartley looks set to lead England on a two-Test tour of Argentina instead after Gatland opted to select Ireland captain Rory Best, Wales's Ken Owens and George as his three Lions hookers.

George has yet to start a Test for England but did enough in replacing Hartley off the bench this season to impress the Lions hierarchy.

Hartley led England in 17 Tests during an 18-match unbeaten run that only ended when the team's bid for back-to-back Grand Slams was thwarted by Ireland in Dublin last month.

But his leadership skills, valued so highly by Australian coach Jones, weren't enough to win him a coveted Lions tour spot

"It’s one of those positions (hooker) where we are absolutely spoilt for choice with the options we have," said Borthwick.

"We discussed at length about it. Dylan has been a tremendous leader for England in the last period of time and playing well.

"The key for us was getting the right mix.

"The three (hookers) we've come to we believe give us the right mix that we need of strengths from Jamie’s set piece and his running game, Ken Owens form in the Six Nations was tremendous, Rory Best’s competitiveness and his leadership and work and set-piece."

Borthwick added: "Throughout the whole squad there are going to be top quality players who missed out on selection because the talent is that great now.

"We believe we've got three hookers there that are the right ones that we need to play the rugby we want to in New Zealand."