It may already have been a jam-packed season but Kieran Brookes is convinced he and his Northampton Saints teammates are fresher than ever as crunch-time approaches.
Saints find themselves in a battle for the Aviva Premiership Rugby top four as they currently lie fourth, just one point and one place clear of Leicester Tigers.
Sixth-placed Harlequins are also still in with a shout of crashing the semi-final party meaning that Northampton must continue to pick up victories, starting with Sunday’s trip to Wasps.
Tighthead prop Brookes underwent knee surgery in December but after a quicker-than-expected recovery, he returned to action at the end of January and was drafted into England’s squad for the Six Nations.
The 25-year-old’s sole appearance of the Championship came from the bench against Wales at Twickenham but he still helped his country achieve a first Grand Slam since 2003.
Brookes, along with the likes of England captain Dylan Hartley and Wales winger George North, is now back at Franklin’s Gardens and fully focused on domestic matters.
He was in the starting XV as they beat Quins 29-23 last weekend and claims it wasn’t hard to slip straight back into club mode despite his pride at England’s achievements.
“It’s great to be back at Northampton – I came back in last Monday and just prepped as normal for Quins last weekend,” said Brookes.
“We got a bit of a congratulations on Monday morning but then it was pushed to one side and we got on with our week.
“Even coming back from pre-season it was an easy transition as well. Everyone is quite accepting and understanding about getting you back on the same page as them.
“The club are all about keeping people as fresh as possible with as much recovery as you can off the pitch. I’m sure we’ll peak at the right time.
“We’ve got nearly a fully-fit squad now which is good for everyone. We’ve got a lot of competition in every position and that will drive everyone to do their best.
“We’ve got loads of depth in every position, so if you’ve had a bad game it makes you want to play a bit better knowing somebody is snapping at your heels to get your shirt.”
With the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final race looking set to go down to the wire, Brookes is determined that Saints won’t be the ones to miss out.
Sunday’s opponents Wasps – who are currently seven points above Saints in third – have, at times this season, been the most impressive team in the league and will undoubtedly be a big test of Brookes and co’s credentials.
The front-rower is under no illusions about the magnitude of the challenge awaiting them at the Ricoh Arena but is keen to avoid a repeat of the Franklin’s Gardens match earlier this campaign that saw Wasps emerge as 24-11 winners.
“Wasps have a good set-piece, very dangerous backs and are good in defence as well. I think it is going to be a really tough game with probably only two or three points in it,” added Brookes.
“They beat us here [at Franklin’s Gardens], so we want to go and do the same there. We don’t look at it as putting the wrong right but we need to go and win this weekend.”