England hooker Dylan Hartley has his heart set on the biggest bonus of them all: a spot in the Lions squad to tour Hong Kong and Australia this summer.
Hartley is hoping to oust Tom Youngs from the England No2 jersey for Sunday’s clash with Ireland knowing that doing so would see him go head-to-head with one of the favourites for the Lions hooking berth in Rory Best.
The Northampton skipper knows just how important the next few weeks will be in terms of Lions selection, especially as head coach Warren Gatland is likely to take three hookers and only Best is being talked about as a near certainty.
“The Lions is like a big bonus isn’t it? It’s something to work for,” said Hartley.
“We have a big chance with England as well. We’d all love to lift the trophy. That in itself is pretty exciting.
“It’s is your stage to perform. Every week it’s your rival (you are up against) – even Tom here with England. I understand that.
“I understand that I’ve got seven weeks to give myself a good crack at it. I’ve got my head round that and I’m highly motivated.
“I have played against Rory Best once this year for Northampton against Ulster. He is a key man in their team. They have got plenty of class throughout and he is key to their success up front.”
England and Ireland have both targeted a strong start in the when they meet at the Aviva Stadium and Hartley knows better than most the importance of getting on a roll against Brian O’Driscoll and co.
England were comfortable winners they met at Twickenham last term but the Irish ended Martin Johnson’s Grand Slam dreams at Croke Park 12 months earlier.
Lions hopeful Hartley was England’s starting hooker in Dublin in 2011 and he admits he and his team-mates will face a similar level of ferocity up front this time around.
“The Irish intensity was huge at the start of that game in 2011,” added Hartley.
“Our first scrum got rolled and the crowd went wild. Then my first ball carry saw me held in a choke tackle and they got the turn over.
“You can take points from that experience and there are other players in the squad who experienced that. All we can do is share that with the current crop.
“I’ll tell the guys that we have to be right up there emotionally and physically at the start. They began really strongly against Wales and we must be ready.”