Selection for Lions is on Hartley’s mind ahead of Ireland date

England hooker Dylan Hartley would relish the chance to lock horns with Ireland opposite number Rory Best again in a bid to lay down a marker for British and Irish Lions Test selection this summer.

Hartley is pushing hard for a recall to the England starting line-up for Sunday’s RBS 6 Nations clash in Dublin, having returned from injury via the bench in the win against Scotland.

Should Hartley and Best come face to face on Sunday, Lions coach Warren Gatland will be watching the hooking battle intently, as the duo are the leading contenders to start against Australia this summer.

Hartley not only views every Six Nations contest as a Lions selection head-to-head – but also every training session following the rapid emergence of fellow hooker Tom Youngs as a top-class rival.

“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.

“The Six Nations is your stage to perform. Every week it’s your rival (you are up against) – 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.”

Hartley recalls with a grimace the last time England went to Dublin in the Six Nations, when Ireland blew away their dreams of winning the Grand Slam with a ferocious performance.

Although most of the England team has changed since that 24-8 defeat, Hartley will make sure the newcomers realise just what awaits them in the Aviva Stadium.

“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,” Hartley said.

England coach Stuart Lancaster has already named a 25-man squad that will travel to Dublin, but the starting line-up and bench will be confirmed this morning.

The big decisions are in midfield, where Lancaster must choose two from Manu Tuilagi, Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt.

James Haskell is likely to come into the back row for the injured Ben Morgan and start at blindside flanker, with Tom Wood shifting to No 8.

And Hartley is pressing Youngs for the starting hooker’s jersey he last wore on the tour of South Africa, having missed the QBE autumn internationals through injury.

“As soon as you don’t play it makes you appreciate your time in the shirt and makes you want to work harder to get back into the shirt,” he said.