British and Irish Lions: Dylan Hartley could get shock call-up after Ken Owens suffers injury

Hartley is due to lead England to Argentina but could yet find himself heading out on tour with the Lions

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The Independent Online

Dylan Hartley could be in line for a shock British and Irish Lions call-up after Wales hooker Ken Owens was ruled out of this weekend’s Pro12 semi-finals through injury, putting him in doubt for the tour of New Zealand.

Owens will miss Saturday’s semi-final clash between his Scarlets side and Leinster after suffering an ankle injury during training this week, and his place in Warren Gatland’s Lions squad – alongside fellow hookers Jamie George and Rory Best – now looks to be in some doubt unless he can recover in time to convince Gatland he can feature on the tour.

With the squad set to depart for New Zealand a week on Monday, Owens has nine days to prove his fitness to Gatland, otherwise England captain Hartley may get the shock call from the Lions coach to ditch his plans for the summer tour of Argentina and join up with the Lions to face the All Blacks.

Gatland is currently putting his squad through their paces at a training camp in Wales, and was able to check on Owens’ fitness during the week. He will do so again next week when they head out to Ireland for a second training camp, where a decision will be made on whether he can feature on the tour or not.

Hartley missed out on selection last month after seeing his England understudy George included alongside Ireland captain Best and Wales No 2 Owens, though Gatland did admit that the Northampton Saints forward was “very unlucky” not to be picked after leading England to back-to-back Six Nations titles and an 18-match winning streak.

Best confirmed that the rest of the Lions squad learned of Owens’ injury on Thursday, and the Ulster hooker praised his form this season and hoped that the injury would not prove tour-ending.

"We heard that today,” Best said on Thursday. "From his point of view, to miss a semi-final is going to be gutting, and you just hope it is not too bad.

"I hope he recovers and he is fit to play in the (Pro12) final next week, or to train with us in Dublin.

"Ken is a fantastic player. He is very tough and very good around the pitch, makes a lot of tackles and does not miss many.

"He has been very good at the set-piece this season - he is in fine form.

"As much as anything, he is such a good guy off the pitch as well. He really is a good guy to know.

"You get those people you want to spend time and company with, and he is one of those guys."

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Ken Owens suffered an ankle injury in Scarlets training this week (Getty)

Neil Jenkins, himself a former Lions representative and current assistant coach to Gatland, refused to panic over the injury news surrounding Owens. "It's rugby at the end of the day,” he said. “Stuff does happen, and players get injured.

"Hopefully, Ken is going to be fine, although he is missing a big game for the Scarlets this weekend.

"With a bit of luck, everything is going to be okay for the Lions."

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