Fixture schedulers may ultimately deny Saints skipper Dylan Hartley a precious cap in New Zealand, but the England hooker will adopt a hard-nosed outlook if Rob Webber is retained for the second Test.
Hartley was outstanding throughout the RBS 6 Nations but due to his involvement in Northampton’s Aviva Premiership final triumph on May 31, he was forced to watch the series opener at Eden Park from the stands.
In his absence Webber excelled, blowing away the cobwebs accumulated during an six-week injury-enforced absence to give England a major selection headache in the front row.
It will be a cruel blow if Hartley is confined to the bench at the Forsyth Barr Stadium just months after seeing off fierce competition from Tom Youngs at hooker, but experience has taught him to bide his time.
“Having credit in the bank is good, but when another fella plays well the week before... I won’t feel hard done by if Rob starts and I miss out. That’s the way it works,” said the 28-year-old, who has now fully recovered from the shoulder injury that kept him out for two months.
“I understand that and if it was the other way around I’d expect it as well. It’s all about the team.
“Me and Tom Youngs have had it for two years now. You slip up, you give the other guy an opportunity.
“In my case, slipping up was having to stay behind and play in the Premiership final.
“Rob took his opportunity, played well and I wouldn’t be surprised if the coaches stuck with him. He stepped up.
“I’ve said it before, you just bide your time and wait for an opportunity and when it comes, you take it.”
Being overlooked would spoil Rotorua-born Hartley’s return to the nation he left as a 16-year-old and he is desperate to play the All Blacks in New Zealand.
“I toured in 2008 but was only 21 at the time and didn’t actually play,” he said.
“I really want to play this time. I’ve played the All Blacks before, but only at Twickenham.
“I’d like to give a good account of myself in front of friends and family who don’t get to see me play. I’d like to leave the country with my head held high.”
Whether he starts or is sent into battle as a second-half replacement, Hartley will be involved in a series that is finely poised.
The All Blacks edged the Auckland opener 20-15 as England allowed a glorious opportunity to secure only their third Test victory in New Zealand slip away.
The availability of those players from Premiership finalists Northampton and Saracens will strengthen the tourists’ attempt at levelling the series, but Hartley predicts the world champions will also improve.
“We are kicking ourselves for not coming away with at least a draw, but if we can play like that for the rest of the series we will earn a lot of respect,” he said.
“The series is very much alive. The trap we can’t fall into is thinking that it will be like it was last weekend.
“We know the All Blacks have got high standards and they will be looking at the game and saying it wasn’t good enough for them.”
“We need to get over the line somewhere and here is the perfect place to do it. Doing it against the All Blacks would be one hell of a statement.”
England’s heroic effort in the first Test did not please everyone with local media blaming what they viewed as an orchestrated go-slow strategy on the tourists’ poor conditioning. Hartley rubbishes the claim.
“We were very competitive and I don’t think we played a slow game. We made more line-breaks than them,” he said.
“Why would we want to slow down the game? Gone are the days of the stereotypes of a big, lazy English forward pack that relies on the scrum and maul.
“We’re not that forward pack any more, we’re a dynamic pack. We’ve got variation in our game, we’ve got ball-carriers, we’ve got handlers.
“Why would we slow down a line-out? Maybe we would have a huddle beforehand to get clarity on the call, but it’s not about slowing things - especially when we are chasing the game.”