Dylan Hartley returns to England’s starting line-up for Saturday’s autumn opener against South Africa determined to enjoy every remaining moment in the jersey.
Hartley has held off the challenge of Jamie George to win back the hooking duties after missing the 2-1 series defeat by the Springboks in June in order to take a concussion-enforced break from the game.
The 32-year-old remains in Eddie Jones’ plans for the 2019 World Cup, but the decision to drop fellow veteran Mike Brown for the first Quilter International continues the disbanding of the old guard.
James Haskell and Dan Cole are no longer part of the squad, the injured Chris Robshaw was axed for the first time during the summer tour and now Brown has shared his Harlequins team-mate’s fate.
“I’m delighted I’m still here. I’m delighted I still have the chance to play for England,” said Hartley, who has won 93 caps.
“Everyone asks about trying to get to 100 games. I can honestly say I’m not counting.
“I’m just looking forward to the next one because you don’t know when your last game is and your time is up.
“What I’ve realised when people start talking about 100 Tests, it’s a bit like climbing a mountain. The higher you get up it, the harder it gets. That keeps me grounded.
“I want to make sure I enjoy this weekend and the build-up. I just want to enjoy the next one. Number 94.”
Reflecting on Brown’s return home from the pre-series training camp in Portugal, Hartley said: “It happens to all of us.
“We speak about this year being really important in terms of performance, results and growing together because we are going to a World Cup and not everyone can play or get off the bench.
“There is going to be a group of guys who can’t play and unfortunately for Mike this weekend it’s him.”
Hartley now shares the leadership duties with Owen Farrell, the Saracens playmaker who deputised as skipper in South Africa.
The pair will be named co-captains at Twickenham and Hartley insists it makes little difference to the system that was in place since he took over from Robshaw at the helm.
“In terms of the role, I think it has just got an official title now,” Hartley said.
“I’ve always roomed with Owen, I’ve always bounced ideas off him. He has always been a sounding board for me and vice-versa. Any ideas have always been discussed in our room.
“That’s how I used Owen. He was great at what he did for the team in South Africa and now he’s just got an official title.
“On the field, he is who he is. He plays and he competes and he leads by example.
“Off the field, it’s been seamless, he is no different. He presents meetings. He asks questions and provides answers. He is very much the same person.”