Lions set to have Kiwi captain-coach duo to face All Blacks

England captain Dylan Hartley could mount a serious challenge to claim the captaincy role for the Lions on their tour to New Zealand next year. Photo / Photosport
England captain Dylan Hartley could mount a serious challenge to claim the captaincy role for the Lions on their tour to New Zealand next year. Photo / Photosport

Warren Gatland has endorsed Dylan Hartley's credentials to captain the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand next year after noting his improved disciplinary record.

Now that Gatland has been reappointed head coach for the gruelling 10-fixture odyssey that culminates in a three-Test series against the All Blacks, attention turns to the identity of his assistants and skipper.

The 52-year-old Kiwi's coaching lieutenants will be announced in December, but it is the identity of the captain that will really set minds racing over the coming months.

Sam Warburton has been installed as bookmakers' favourite since Gatland was unveiled as head coach on Wednesday but his main rival is New Zealander Hartley, who has led England to the Grand Slam and a 3-0 series whitewash of Australia under Eddie Jones.

Hartley was picked by Gatland for the 2013 tour Down Under only to then be ruled out after being suspended for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the Premiership final.

A dismal disciplinary record has stalked the Northampton hooker for much of his career, but Gatland has seen enough to view him as a viable contender.

"Dylan has always played on the edge and that has been one of the traits that has made him such a competitor as a player," Gatland said.

"He's obviously matured and he's done a great job with England. Eddie rates him incredibly highly. He has a lot of respect from the players as well.

"The pleasing thing is his discipline. He hasn't been suspended for a while. That's a big tick against his name. Hopefully he continues in that vein and continues to be successful."

Gatland says one factor that will determine his captaincy appointment will be the success of the national team they lead, placing more emphasis on next year's Six Nations.

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