England will expect a commanding performance from Charlie Hodgson in the RBS 6 Nations opener against Wales – and the disappointing British & Irish Lions tour might help him achieve it.
Hodgson was at rock bottom a year ago after enduring a goalkicking nightmare along with Olly Barkley during England’s 18-17 home defeat to France.
The fly-half’s failings proved in stark contrast to the consistent Test match success enjoyed by Jonny Wilkinson.
Now, though, as then, Wilkinson is injured, and Hodgson has set about establishing long-term occupancy at number 10 for England to such a determined degree that his club boss Philippe Saint-Andre believes he could emerge as this season’s RBS 6 Nations player of the tournament.
There are many factors behind the Sale star’s emergence, but the Lions’ miserable trip to New Zealand last summer would feature high on most lists.
Hodgson, despite consistent form and prolific points scoring, was overlooked for the business end of a three-Test series against Graham Henry’s All Blacks, yet he maintains it was richly rewarding with regard to career development.
"I took a lot from the Lions tour," said Hodgson, who will spearhead England’s bid for an essential Twickenham victory this weekend.
"I guess being out of your comfort zone, playing with guys you don’t play with week-in, week-out, was a completely different environment.
"I don’t know whether people have changed their opinions of me or not, but I am happier as a player and feeling confident in my ability.
"Every time I go out there, whether it is for Sale or England, I feel confident I can do a good job, which is a positive thing for me.
"I’ve never taken the position for granted, particularly when playing for England. Every game I treat it as the last time I play in the position.
"You go out there to do yourself justice, and if you put the big performance in you hope you will be there for the next game.
"That’s the only way you can think about it, you can’t take things for granted. Andy Goode (Leicester fly-half) is on the bench this weekend, and he will be dying for a chance."
Hodgson could prove to be Twickenham’s darling if he can click England into gear, not only avenging the 11-9 defeat in Cardiff last season but immediately raising hopes of a meaningful title challenge following two RBS 6 Nations campaigns in which the world champions have underachieved.
"It was disappointing to lose in Cardiff and get off to a bad start," said Hodgson.
"The result effectively put us out of contention for winning the tournament, but hopefully we can reverse that this weekend.
"Wales, in attack, are very good and they stretched us a lot. For them to only score one try was credit to our defence, because we were under a lot of pressure, but that game is gone now, it’s forgotten about."