Six Nations: Dylan Hartley enjoying battle with Tom Youngs for England hooker role
England and Northampton Saints hooker Dylan Hartley is relishing his return to the England squad.
Last Updated: 13/02/14 10:34pm
Hartley impressed head coach Stuart Lancaster in their 20-0 Six Nations victory over Scotland with his immaculate string of line-outs and he is set to retain his place in the starting line-up against Ireland at Twickenham next weekend.
The Saints captain's England career has faced strong competition for the number two shirt in the form of Tom Youngs, who started last autumn's QBE Internationals as England's first-choice hooker, and Hartley knows how rapidly his fortunes could change.
"I've been in enough situations to know you're only as good as your last game," Hartley said.
"You have to keep performing and stay on your toes, but you do enjoy the ups.
"I thought that if I got back here I'd enjoy it and almost cherish it because you're one game away from being on the other side of the headlines.
"I've been there, so I'm just enjoying it and I don't mean enjoy it as in a jolly.
"I mean that every time I pull on that shirt and step into this environment is special because when you're not in it, are injured or on the bench, you miss it.
"Three games ago I was on the bench. Three games ago I was on the road to redemption from the summer.
"I was on a chance from Stuart Lancaster. A lot of people forget that and they get caught up on the here and now... 20 line-outs hits against Scotland or whatever.
"But three games ago I was on the bench, so I'll enjoy it while I'm here."
And Hartley is determined not to rest on his laurels as he knows Youngs is not going to back down.
But for now the 27-year-old is looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd in Saturday week's game at Twickenham and he is keen to erase the painful memory of last autumn's 30-22 defeat to New Zealand.
"As soon as I sit back and say 'aah, done it', the next I know I play a bad game and Tom's back in the team," Hartley said.
"I always said everyone has their time in the sun. Tom was in great form last year and sometimes you have to wait for an opportunity.
"That's exactly what I've done. It's pleasing that they weren't empty words, that it came back right for me.
"But I'm aware that Tom's very resilient and he's not going to back down, that he's going to be coming back. I'm sure he's got some sort of masterplan to get back in the team.
"We played so well against the All Blacks, we showed such great character to get back into the game, but to end the series on a loss was annoying.
"This is my chance to put the good feeling back in Twickenham. It's exciting because that Twickenham crowd was the best I've ever heard."