O’Connell backs Hartley for Lions captaincy

Date published: October 13 2016

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Former British and Irish Lions captain Paul O’Connell believes England hooker Dylan Hartley is the right man to lead the side on their tour to New Zealand next year.

Hartley, whose career has been blighted by disciplinary issues, was appointed as England’s captain under new head coach Eddie Jones coach this year and led the side to a Six Nations Grand Slam.

And Connell, who led the Lions on their tour to South Africa in 2009, backs the 30-year-old to do a good job as the Lions’ leader in the country of his birth.

“It might be tough on Dylan but he seems to have learned from all of the scrapes he’s been in,” O’Connell told the BBC.

“I think he’d be a great captain.”

Hartley missed the Lions tour to Australia in 2013 after he received a red card for abusing the referee while playing for his club Northampton in the 2013 Premiership Final at Twickenham against Leicester Tigers.

But O’Connell, who played in 108 Tests for Ireland and seven for the Lions, feels Hartley’s leadership in the Six Nations and during England’s 3-0 series win in Australia makes him the perfect candidate to skipper the Lions.

“Dylan’s been through all the ups and downs and he seems to be in a very good place in terms of how he plays and how he leads the team now,” added O’Connell.

Hartley also sat out the 2015 Rugby World Cup when he was found guilty of head-butting an opponent and has been banned for a total of 54 weeks in his career for incidents including gouging, biting and punching.

“I played with loads of guys that were in plenty of scrapes but it turns out that they are the guys you 100 per cent want in your team,” said O’Connell.

Hartley is one of the candidates to captain the Lions in New Zealand under head coach Warren Gatland along with Wales back-row Sam Warburton, who led the team to a 2-1 series win over Australia in 2013.

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