Autumn can be the favourite time of year for players battling international stars for a starting place and Northampton Saints hooker Mike Haywood admits he is relishing the chance of an extended first-team run.
Yet a fine run of form at the end of last year that coincided with Hartley returning from injury saw Haywood start the final ahead of the England international as Northampton triumphed over Saracens in dramatic fashion.
And having fully recovered from a shoulder injury and with Hartley away on international duty this month, Haywood is confident he can give head coach Jim Mallinder a selection headache for the rest of the season.
But even if Hartley does reclaim the No.2 jersey on his return, Haywood insists their friendly rivalry only bodes well for the Aviva Premiership Rugby high-flyers.
“The mood is very confident in the camp at the moment. With the internationals on we’ve had quite a lot of young lads step up and put in some good performances,” he said.
“I had a shoulder operation over the summer but that’s back to 100 per cent now and I’m really looking to forward to getting a few more starts over the coming weeks.
“Dylan being away gives me an opportunity to play, which is great and it’s nice to get that step up and play well.
“He’s a great player and he’s the England hooker for a reason. He’s also a great fella and when we’re in training, if I make a mistake he’ll let me know why and how to improve.
“All I can do is play as well as I can but if I don’t get selected when he’s back then I’ll keep pushing him to play better, which is also better for the team.”
Despite the absence of their international players, this month brings an added boost to Franklin’s Gardens with the club heavily involved in the Movember campaign through Hartley’s Front Mo Union fund-raising team.
And Haywood believes that as well as supporting a good cause, the mo growing competition is a boon for team morale as it gives the Saints squad a common goal.
“Movember is a fantastic cause and a big thing for the club and it makes sure everyone is sticking together over the Autumn so we don’t lose touch as a team” he added.
“As well as raising money the team unity is a great reason to get involved – it’s a fantastic charity and it keeps the club fixated on a target wherever each player is.
“We’ve got some quite good ones even though we’re not very far into it – to be honest my own mo is not very good but it’s the taking part that counts.”
This Christmas, Premiership Rugby is offering fans a special gift with selected tickets for the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final 2015. Click here to find out about this limited offer.