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Warren Gatland backs Rory Best to make a big impact on the Lions tour

Updated: Monday, 27 May 2013 11:30 | Comments

Rory Best is a late call-up to the Lions squad
Rory Best is a late call-up to the Lions squad

Warren Gatland has backed Rory Best to make a big impact on the British and Irish Lions tour after the Ulster hooker received a late-call up.

Best was drafted into the squad after Northampton captain Dylan Hartley received an 11-week ban for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the Aviva Premiership final.

The Lions will not officially decide on Hartley's participation on the tour until the result of any potential appeal is known - but he was absent from last night's official farewell dinner at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Best, who had been due to captain Ireland on their summer tour, will link up with the Lions today as one of three hookers, along with Tom Youngs and Richard Hibbard, heading out to Hong Kong.

Head coach Gatland said: "When we picked the squad it was very, very tough. The decision on the hookers was by far the longest debate we had.

"Rory was very, very unlucky to miss out. One man's disappointment is another man's fortune and I am sure he will come in and do a great job.

"In previous tours, when players have had that chance they have come in and made the most of it. He has the chance to do that."

Hartley was sent off just before half-time in Leicester's 37-17 victory and banned after being found guilty of calling referee Barnes a "f****** cheat".

Alan Quinlan, who suffered depression after a ban for eye-gouging cost him a chance to go on the 2009 Lions tour, tweeted: "I do feel sorry for Dylan Hartley. It's a tough time for him now. Go easy on him."

For Best, the news was the perfect tonic after Ulster's RaboDirect PRO12 final defeat by Leinster and he is now determined to live up to the challenge Gatland has set him.

"It was hard when I didn't make the initial squad because it is everyone's ambition. To now be selected is a massive honour," he told ulsterrugby.com.

"To finally be selected makes playing professional rugby worthwhile. All the lows that you get and the knocks and bumps, it more than makes up for them and for a few weeks ago when I thought that the chance had gone.

"There will be 37 players getting on a plane to Hong Kong aiming to make the Test squad and I am no different. I am as ambitious as everyone else.

"To be on the tour is unbelievable but you have to go there and play your best rugby, put your hand up and see where that takes you."

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