England in New Zealand 2014
England hopeful on Hartley's fitness
May 26, 2014
Dylan Hartley has not played since March © Getty Images
Dylan Hartley still has a chance of touring New Zealand with England but his chances look to be reliant on whether he plays in Saturday's Aviva Premiership final.
Despite rumours of him playing some part in Northampton's end-of-season run-in, Hartley's last competitive action came in March when he picked up a shoulder injury against Leicester. Hartley is hopeful of returning in time for Saturday's final against Saracens and if he plays well and proves his fitness, he could force his way into the England squad for their second and third Tests against the All Blacks.
England have named four hookers in their 30-man squad for the first Test against New Zealand but three of them are uncapped. Rob Webber is the front-runner to start against the All Blacks on June 7 but like Hartley, he is battling back from injury and if he fails to regain fitness in time then Joe Gray, Dave Ward or Luke Cowan-Dickie will be handed their full Test debut.
"We've named four [hookers] but we have not ruled Dylan Hartley out yet," Lancaster said. "Dylan's I'm sure going to try and fight his way into the Northampton team this weekend, though I'm not sure how that will play out. We want to give him the flexibility and opportunity to come on tour should he play well on Saturday.
"But to cover our bases and if that wasn't to transpire then we have to cover our bases and make sure we have enough for the trip. Losing Tom Youngs and David Paice does bring opportunities.
"Luke Cowan-Dickie is an example, he's been exceptional in training. For those who have seen him develop from an international loose-head at age grade into a starting hooker in the Premiership and what he's done at the Exeter Chiefs, he's an example of, for me, the benefits of the tour and understanding who has the ability at the highest level as we look to get more depth in those positions."
Though England are quietly optimistic on Hartley's chances, they face an anxious wait on Mako Vunipola's prospects. He picked up a knee injury in Saturday's game against Toulon and will have a scan on Monday.
Billy Twelvetrees is still a doubt for the first Test but he travels with the team. Lancaster said: "He hasn't trained yet and it's unlikely he'll train tomorrow [Tuesday] before we fly but we're optimistic enough to take him on the initial flight with a view to assessing him on the Thursday/ Friday when we get out there.
"We've got a Saturday training session in the build-up to the first Test week so he'll have to be training fully in that week to be considered. But he's made enough progress to be considered for the first Test and definitely for the second so he's on the plane."
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