Lions 2013: Rory Best has chance of Test spot says Warren Gatland

Rory Best

Coach Warren Gatland says hooker Rory Best can fight for a Test place after his late call-up for the Lions tour.

The Ulster player, 30, has replaced the banned Dylan Hartley and flew out with the rest of the Lions party on Monday.

"It is strange sometimes how fate can intervene and a player who was unlucky to miss out has a chance to step up and fight for a place," said Gatland.

"It wouldn't surprise me if later in the tour he is in serious contention for a Test spot."

The exclusion of Ireland hooker Best was one of the biggest talking points when the initial squad was named on 30 April, with Hartley a surprise choice to join fellow England hooker Tom Youngs and Wales' Richard Hibbard.

Gatland revealed the discussion over the hookers took the longest of any position, and even then he was unsure whether he and his fellow coaches had come to the right decision.

"I have no problem admitting that post-selection I had that discussion with myself - 'did we make the right call here?'" he said. "Everything that has been written about Rory being unlucky is 100% correct, because I had those doubts myself."

Gatland said it was an "obvious choice" to summon Best once Hartley's suspension was confirmed, but admitted he felt for the New Zealand-born England forward, who received an 11-week ban for calling referee Wayne Barnes a cheat during Saturday's Premiership final.

"Obviously he is a young man who had made an unfortunate error," added the head coach. "In this game you have to play on the edge. Unfortunately he has gone to the edge of the cliff and jumped off it.

"I really feel for Dylan. I called him yesterday and left a message and he has called me back today and left a message thanking me for the call. I was looking forward to working with him. He has made a poor judgement and hopefully he can put this behind him and move on.

"It is my understanding that he is not going to appeal, but that is entirely up to him. He may decide to do that in the next day or two, but that is his own personal decision."

With Gatland supervising a last training session before departure, Best - who was on his way to Ulster's training base to pick up some gear before heading off on Ireland's North American tour - took a call from the Lions operations manager Guy Richardson on Sunday.

"I had to pull over onto the hard shoulder to make sure I didn't veer off the road," recalled the Ulster hooker. "The call was an unknown number and I don't normally answer those, but I decided to make an exception for this one. When I got the call, there was a feeling of elation."

With all the players from Leicester and Leinster, plus Ulster's Tommy Bowe, coming through the Premiership and Pro12 finals unscathed, the Lions' only injury concern is Wales prop Gethin Jenkins.

The loose-head should be "up and running in three or four days" after picking up a calf injury when he came on as a replacement for Toulon in their Heineken Cup final victory over Clermont Auvergne.

"I don't think it is a serious one," said the Welshman, who will miss the Top 14 final this Saturday to join the Lions instead. "Hopefully I'll maybe be back for Saturday, or maybe (next) Wednesday."

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