Head coach is not ruling out any options for now
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland says England captain Dylan Hartley hasn't blown his chance of taking on the skipper's role in New Zealand.
The Wales head coach's comments come after the Northampton hooker was red carded when playing for his club side in a European Champions Cup match against Leinster last week.
The incident saw him make a dangerous hit on Ireland and Leinster back-row Sean O'Brien during the game, resulting in criticism of his actions.
Hartley has already been banned for 54 weeks throughout his career and is expected to face another punishment.
He has been cited for the O'Brien incident.
But Gatland told Sky Sports News that it's too early to rule anyone out of considerations for the Lions captaincy.
"It's not about ruling anyone out. It's so early to be even thinking that far ahead and there's a number of people that will be in contention for a potential captain's role," he said.
"To be fair to Dylan in the last 12 months he has had a great track record and you have to feel for him. Hopefully he will take his punishment and get back for the Six Nations and hope he goes well.
"He has done a great job leading England and they have gone really well."
Ireland captain Rory Best is one of the favourites for the position and Gatland had recently praised the Ulster player, saying: "He has grown into that leadership role. There is a lot to admire about Rory Best. I go back to a couple of years ago when Ulster went over to Northampton and he gave Dylan Hartley a bit of a lesson in forward play and hooking that day. It was another level."
Gatland had also stated that the likely captain would be someone who is currently captaining their country, which would make Hartley, Best and Wales' Sam Warburton the main favourites.
Meanwhile, ex-Ireland head coach Eddie O'Sullivan told Newstalk on Monday night that Hartley's temperament and chequered disciplinary record made it difficult to see how the England player could gain the captaincy.
He said: "I think there are definitely huge question marks over his head now, no matter what suspension he gets. It's his temperament that's the question mark.
"As a Lions captain, I just don't know how you can take that punt on him."