Warren Gatland has revealed that Dylan Hartley was overlooked by the British and Irish Lions for their tour to New Zealand due to the irrepressible claim of his England understudy Jamie George.
Hartley is the RBS 6 Nations champions’ captain but has lost out to George, the Saracens hooker who has yet to make an international start and replaces him in the third quarter of Tests.
Also filling the position in the 41-man squad announced by Gatland are Ken Owens of Wales and Ireland’s Rory Best, but it is the omission of Hartley and presence of George that has caused the biggest stir.
“We couldn’t leave Jamie out. There’s a potential for him to keep improving. He’s done a good job coming off the bench and is playing well for Saracens,” Gatland said.
“We felt there’s continued improvement in him as a player and that Rory and Ken had great Six Nations.
“There was always going to be a tough call and someone was always going to be disappointed.”
Jonathan Joseph was included after Gatland decided a player who has caused Wales so much torment on his watch could not be overlooked.
Joseph was thought to have missed out due to Gatland’s preference for the muscular gainline threat in midfield that has earned Ben Te’o, Robbie Henshaw and Jonathan Davies selection for the 10-fixture tour that culminates in three Tests against the All Blacks.
But by opting for an expanded 41-man squad, Gatland was able to make room for England’s rapid outside centre with dazzling footwork.
It was the havoc caused by Joseph against his Wales teams in the past that persuaded Gatland not to add him to a list of big-name English omissions that include Hartley, George Ford, Joe Launchbury, Mike Brown and Chris Robshaw.
“We decided on a number of positions (on Tuesday). We had a good discussion about the midfield and I said to the rest of the coaches that we can’t leave Jonathan Joseph out,” Gatland said.
“He has his points of difference of footwork and speed and the lines he ran against Scotland in the Six Nations were outstanding.
“He’s got some weaknesses but when I look at it from a Welsh perspective, he’s the one player who causes us so many problems when we play England because of his footwork and pace.”