Charlie Hodgson will start his first Test for England in 19 months determined to grasp a "massive opportunity" he feared may never come around again.
There were dark times when Hodgson felt he might be stranded on 29 caps after wrecking his knee ligaments for a second time against South Africa in November 2006.
Hodgson missed the World Cup and then had to watch as Danny Cipriani ousted Jonny Wilkinson from the England number 10 jersey for the victory over Ireland in March.
Hodgson was involved in the Six Nations training squad but his only action was the last 10 minutes in England’s miserable defeat to Scotland. It was the ultimate thankless task.
But with both Cipriani and Wilkinson injured, Hodgson is back in the director’s chair for tomorrow’s clash with New Zealand at Eden Park.
”I did think, particularly when I was injured, whether I would get another opportunity,” Hodgson said.
”But I never gave up hope and believed that one day it would happen again. The things have worked out with Jonny having an operation and Cips picking up that injury, it is cruel luck for those guys, but it gives me a massive opportunity to be back in an England shirt.”
Four years ago, when England were last in New Zealand, Hodgson was overwhelmed as the All Blacks romped to 36-3 and 36-12 victories.
But he feels far more equipped to deal with the challenges of Test rugby away in New Zealand, particularly after a successful Lions tour in 2005.
Hodgson did not appear in the Test matches but was a regular in the unbeaten midweek team and impressed All Blacks coach Graham Henry.
”We think their five-eighth is a very astute player, probably the best five-eighth on the Lions tour,” Henry said this week.
Hodgson said: “I draw on the experiences like 2004 and, like everyone says, you learn more from the bad ones.
”Yes, perhaps I am more experience and more relaxed about the way things are.
”The fortunate thing about rugby, is you get the chance to put things right.
”It is great to hear comments (like those from Henry). This is a different time of my career but hopefully I can repeat those performances of 2005.”
Hodgson has also benefited from playing alongside Luke McAlister, the former All Blacks centre now plying his trade at Sale.
”Working with him has been brilliant, seeing how attack-minded he is, the lines he runs and the skill level he has,” said Hodgson.
”Fortunately I don’t have to play against him on Saturday, I am quite pleased about that. But having someone like Ma’a Nonu at inside centre is a big test.”
”Number 10 is never an easy channel to be in; defending or attacking, as things come through you all the time. Nonu is very physical, with good hands.
”I obviously know it is going to be a massive test for me but I am looking forward to it, and it gives me another chance to play for England.”