Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson is relishing his battle with Kahn Fotuali’i for the Saints’ number nine jersey.
Of all the assets Dickson can point to in his push for a World Cup berth, he insists Fotuali’i is right near the top of the list.
Fotuali’i arrived at Franklin’s Gardens at the start of last season and hit the ground running, pushing Dickson for a Saints starting berth throughout the Aviva Premiership campaign.
The Samoan international has not taken his foot off the gas this year either, displacing Dickson in the run-on side on Sunday as Northampton beat Newcastle Falcons 35-10.
However, Dickson has no complaints about battling for his starting berth.
Indeed, with a World Cup on home soil at the end of the campaign the 29-year-old believes Fotuali’i’s presence is crucial to his chances of pulling on the Red Rose on the biggest stage.
“It has been brilliant,” he said.
“I said all last year that Kahn coming to the club has been a big help for me, on and off the pitch. He has opened my eyes to a lot of different things.
“Last year with me not playing as many games as I have in years gone by, I probably had the best year I have had for England and I felt fresh.
“It is always going to be a big year but you can’t think too far ahead. If Saints do well and I’m playing well for Saints, I am holding my hands up.
“But you can’t think ‘World Cup, World Cup, World Cup’ because I want to win the Premiership and I want to win the European Cup first.
“You have got to hold your hands up throughout the season.”
After kicking off the season with a 53-6 thrashing of Gloucester, defeat to Wasps in round two brought the Aviva Premiership Rugby champions back down to earth.
But they didn’t take long to bounce back, returning from Kingston Park with five points last weekend as youngster Will Hooley impressed at fly-half in place of the influential Stephen Myler.
“I think it has been a good start to the season,” he added.
“To come out as Premiership champions and play a Gloucester team that a lot of people have talked about and do what we did to them was very pleasing.
“We let ourselves down against Wasps but the brilliant thing about the squad is that we came back and took a point away from the game.
“Myler is a world-class player and he has been playing well now for two years but Will stepped into his shoes really well.
“If Myler goes down, he has got Premiership experience now and I think he ran the show well last weekend.”