Hartley’s loss could be Best’s gain in crucial number two slot

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Dylan Hartley has never spoken a more costly word when calling Wayne Barnes a ‘cheat’ in the Aviva Premiership Final at Twickenham, but the Northampton hooker’s expensive mistake was the break Rory Best had been waiting for.

Best has been called up to the Lions squad as a replacement for Hartley, a turn of events that epitomises the out-of-hand fortune that plays such a powerful part in sport at all levels.

Best is now 3/1 to start the first Test at number two.

The 30-year-old Irish international and Ulster stalwart said he was at his lowest ebb when discovering that he hadn’t made the final roster of three hookers, a disappointment compounded by his club’s RaboDirect PRO12 final defeat by Leinster a week later.

Best is a hero in Ireland, having been capped 67 times, and the fact he was chosen as his nation’s skipper for their tour of North America before the news of Hartley broke, says everything about the high regard Best is held in.

The argument against Best not starting the first test at number two is an obvious but not absolute one. Best did not make the final list the first time so a late call-up does not mean he suddenly gets promoted to first choice.

However, with six warm-up games scheduled before that first Test there is ample time for Best to show he deserves his place regardless of what has gone before.

Many would have said before the Six Nations that the Ulster man was in pole position for a starting berth, but a poor championship quickly diluted his appeal.

However, both the present and the past weigh in Best’s favour. Lions coach Warren Gatland has already said that he has a good a chance as any, whilst the timeline only needs to be dragged back to the last tour to prove that late replacements are not just there to fill plane seats.

In unerringly similar circumstances, Tom Croft was called up at the last minute four years ago to replace Alan Quinlan who failed in his appeal against a 12-week ban for foul play. Croft went on to start the first Test at flanker and promptly scored two tries.

Ospreys and Wales’ Richard Hibbard at 8/13 and England and Leicester’s Tom Youngs at 9/4 are understandably ahead of Best in the market by virtue of being part of Gatland’s original preparations.

However, the Lions tour is a long journey and one that rarely respects the plans.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publication

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