Gatland has been to Six Nations games in Edinburgh, Rome, Cardiff and Paris scouting players and will be keeping a keen eye on events at Kingsholm tomorrow when another potential Lion, Mako Vunipola, returns for Saracens after nine weeks out with a knee injury.
Prop Vunipola toured Australia in 2013 but Hartley, originally picked, was ruled out by suspension after being sent off for Northampton in the Premiership final.
Hooker Hartley has just returned from another six-week ban, for a reckless tackle in a club game, and his lack of game-time has been highlighted in England’s opening two Six Nations wins.
He was replaced after 55 minutes against France and lasted just 46 minutes against Wales but Gatland thinks two weeks off from rugby will help him get up to speed ahead of England’s game against Italy on Sunday week.
“He has been out for quite a while and he did well in the first game against France when he was pumped up and the adrenaline was going,” said Gatland. “It was a pretty physical game on Saturday (against Wales) so they made the change early. Now he has the chance to get some extra conditioning.
Warren Gatland has been keeping a close eye on the home nations at the Six Nations
Dylan Hartley hasn't been ruled out of a place in the British & Irish Lions squad
“He has not done anything wrong in this campaign so far and he is still getting up to game speed. It is hard to have six weeks off and a break and come into Test match rugby. He has done OK and he has got the first games under his belt.”
Jamie George has been the beneficiary of Hartley’s early exits and the Saracens man could well start against Italy.
And if Vunipola comes through tonight’s Premiership match where he starts against Gloucester, he could put himself in the frame for a recall to England colours.
Eddie Jones wants the prop to get at least 40 minutes under his belt then he could call him back into camp when he updates his England squad on Monday ahead of the Italy game.
The 26-year-old cemented his place as Jones’ first choice loose-head when Joe Marler opted out of the summer tour to Australia and started all of the autumn internationals.
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Vunipola, has 39 England caps plus three for the Lions, and England have missed his ball-carrying and brother Billy’s power.
Billy Vunipola is still out, also with a knee injury, and Gatland will be keeping tabs on his recovery and on the likes of George Kruis, Chris Robshaw, the now-fit Anthony Watson and Ireland’s Johnny Sexton.
He said: “There are a couple of players to come back from injury and it will be interesting to see when they come back and start playing in the Six Nations and what their form is like too. Some players have not played a lot recently and it is seeing how they are going to go in the next few weeks.”
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