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England captain Dylan Hartley to miss out on Warren Gatland's Lions squad

Mirror logo Mirror 18/04/2017 Alex Spink
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Dylan Hartley and almost half of England’s Six Nations double-winning team face Lions heartbreak on Wednesday.

Warren Gatland ­announces his squad at midday and disappointment beckons for the Red Rose captain and many others responsible for ­transforming England from World Cup flops to kings of Europe.

Eddie Jones had long expected his men to fill 'at least' 15 of the 38 seats reserved for players on the plane to New Zealand.

But as the final ­selection meeting dragged on into Tuesday night there were indications that his squad, which only last month equalled the world record for ­successive wins, would struggle just to reach that mark.

Hartley, George Ford, Jonathan Joseph, Mike Brown, James Haskell and Joe Launchbury all started England’s last match.

Jonny May, Danny Care, Nathan Hughes, Tom Wood and Chris ­Robshaw contributed to England going through 2016 ­undefeated.

Yet each is set to miss out, with ­Gatland placing an emphasis in selection on the ­evidence of the two Tests which ­defined this season: ­England’s Grand Slam loss in Dublin and ­Ireland’s defeat of the All Blacks in ­Chicago.

Hartley’s omission, if ­confirmed, will mean the Lions have snubbed the skipper of ­England on their last three tours – following Steve Borthwick in 2009 and Robshaw in 2013.

Ironically Borthwick is part of Gatland’s management team this time; one poised to award the captain’s armband to Wales flanker and 2013 skipper Sam Warburton.

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Hartley, who missed out in 2013 due to suspension after being selected by Gatland, is set to lose out this time to hooker rivals Rory Best, Jamie George and Ken Owens.

“You want someone who’s competitive, who’s driven, who wants to win,” said ­Gatland, when quizzed recently on what qualities he was looking for in his Lions.

“But then behind the scenes, off the field, you want someone who can contribute to a team.”

Hartley ticks all those boxes as well as offering a brand of leadership which, in the space of 18 months, has turned England from ­a laughing stock to the world’s No.2 ranked team.

His ­England captaincy ­record shows one defeat in 19, yet that one was last time out against Ireland, on the day many an English Lions dream died ­in the Aviva Stadium.

None of the England side so well beaten needed telling how costly that loss was – and not just because it robbed them of the outright record 19th straight win.

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Asked about his Lions ­prospects last week Hartley ­admitted: “I am not counting my chickens and I am not getting my hopes up – in a week’s time it could all be taken away.”

For all the disappointment, there will be much elation felt across England, Wales and ­Ireland today – if not in Scotland where Stuart Hogg is their only likely selection.

A fair degree of concern too in New Zealand at the sight of a squad boasting serious talent, if not the time to gel it all together.

The All Blacks will meet their match at half-back, in the set-piece and on the goal-kicking tee.

It is a question of whether ­Gatland’s boys have the time to become a cohesive unit before the series gets underway on June 24.

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