As a previous England captain overlooked by the British and Irish Lions, Steve Borthwick can feel Dylan Hartley’s pain, but he expects the hooker to get over the omission with his usual resilience.
Borthwick, who felt the anguish of missing out on the 2009 tour of South Africa, had a say in the decision to leave Hartley off the plane to New Zealand.
The Northampton player, who missed the last Lions tour to Australia in 2013 after when he was suspended after being selected, must now focus on club and country, with England’s tour to Argentina overlapping with the Lions in June.
“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,” Borthwick told reporters after the 41-man squad was announced on Wednesday.
“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,” added the forwards coach.
New Zealand-born Hartley led England to back-to-back Six Nations titles after missing the 2015 Rugby World Cup when Stuart Lancaster dropped him following another suspension.
He has a lengthy disciplinary record, being banned in the past for a total of more than a year for offences including eye-gouging, biting and verbally abusing referees.
But Eddie Jones put his faith in him to captain England last year and Hartley played a big part in the team’s resurgence after a humiliating World Cup exit.
“He’s a top quality player. We had to find what we believe are the right players to select,” said Borthwick, who had a close view of him through his role as England assistant coach.
“Throughout the whole squad there are going to be top quality players who missed out on selection because talent is that great now. So we are trying to get the right blend of players for what we need.
“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,” he added.
Hartley’s understudy Jamie George, who spent most of the Six Nations coming on for Hartley around the hour mark, got the nod alongside Ireland captain Rory Best and Ken Owens of Wales.
“It’s one of those positions where we are absolutely spoilt for choice with the options we have. We discussed at length about it,” said Borthwick.
“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 of players.
“This isn’t about England. This is about the Lions and the challenge we face down there in New Zealand.”