Jamie George is ready to seize a final opportunity to impress British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland when he locks horns with Dylan Hartley on Sunday afternoon.
The rival England hookers clash at Stadium MK where George will lead Saracens against Northampton in a final audition for the New Zealand-bound squad, which is named just 72 hours later.
Hartley is Eddie Jones’ captain and starts every international, but George is the Aviva Premiership’s form hooker and makes a telling impact every time he steps off the Six Nations’ champions bench.
The two are duelling for selection with Gatland expected to take three players in the position to New Zealand, elevating their Milton Keynes collision into a head-to-head that could prove decisive.
“It’s an opportunity. I always love playing against Dylan. There is always a huge amount of competition there,” George said.
“He is a good player and I enjoying playing against the best hookers. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I know I’m going to have to be on top of my game to put in a good performance.
“Hooker is a very confrontational position. When pundits have a look at line-ups before games hooker is probably the best one to have a look at.
“You are in the thick of it and there are clear indications of whether you are having a good or bad game when it comes to the set piece.
“In my game in particular I am looking to get as many involvements in the loose, whether that be defensively or attack.”
Hartley missed the 2015 World Cup after being banned for four weeks for butting George on Premiership duty, but the two have long since buried the hatchet.
“We’re competitive, but we get on really well. It’s quite funny,” George said.
“We’ve had a lot of chat about the instances that happened before. But that was before we really knew each other and we actually get on really well.
“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for each other. It’s going to be competitive on the field but as ever we’ll be mates off it.”
George is satisfied with how he performed during the Six Nations, his five second-half appearances as a replacement earning rave reviews and increasing pressure on Hartley place as starting hooker.
“I was happy with how the Six Nations went. My aim is trying to make the most of the opportunities I get,” George said.
“Whether it was 30 minutes, 35 or 25, I felt that I was pretty good. In particular that Wales game was probably the best game I’ve played for England.
“Form wise I’m in a good place at the minute and I want to keep on progressing in that way.”