Hartley backs Lawes' England hopes

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The Independent Online

Dylan Hartley has told Courtney Lawes that one final push with Northampton could see him replace the injured Steve Borthwick in England's second row this summer.

Borthwick, who has led England for all but one of Martin Johnson's Tests as team manager, is a doubt for this summer's five-game tour of Australia and New Zealand.

The 30-year-old has not played since exacerbating a knee injury during England's 15-15 draw with Scotland in March.

Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter has suggested that Borthwick will miss next month's tour which includes two Tests against Australia, two games against the Australian Barbarians and one against the New Zealand Maori.

Leicester flanker Lewis Moody, who led the side in Borthwick's absence against France during the Six Nations, is likely to deputise again should the skipper miss the trip, but his absence would leave a big void to fill alongside veteran Simon Shaw in England's second row.

Lawes, 21, earned his first international call-up during this season's autumn internationals but, with only two caps to his name, appears to be behind Louis Deacon and Tom Palmer in the pecking order.

But hooker Hartley thinks that an impressive end to the season as Saints' push for the Guinness Premiership title could see the imposing lock emerge as the front-runner to replace Borthwick.

"To lose Steve would be a big blow for him and for the team as well," said the Northampton captain.

"He's the captain, he's our leader and one of the most senior guys in the team.

"At the same time it opens the door for players like Courtney Lawes to get in there and make an impression.

"I know that he's the sort of guy that would relish the opportunity to get in there and give it his best shot.

"He has been an important player for us this season. He is getting to a point now where he can stake his claim for an international spot if he keeps on improving in the last few games for us.

"He has some important people around him in the squad who are helping him improve.

"He has to play well in the next few weeks now. If he does that then doors will start to open for him with England."

Johnson will name his 44-man squad for the tour later this month and Hartley knows the summer games represent a chance to consolidate his position as England's first-choice hooker ahead of next year's World Cup.

The 24-year-old has started the last six Tests for England but he is aware of the threat the likes of veteran Steve Thompson, among others, will pose to him this summer.

Hartley said: "I am very proud and lucky to have been wearing the number two shirt in the last few games but competition is so tough in that squad at the moment that there are always going to be three or four others around you trying their best to snatch it back off you."