Saints star Dylan Hartley will use a mental colour-chart to keep his discipline in check during the RBS 6 Nations after admitting the trust of the England coaches cannot last forever.
Hartley is aiming to convince head coach Stuart Lancaster that he deserves an immediate recall for Saturday’s game against Scotland, having missed the autumn internationals through injury.
That has meant addressing, once again, a volatile streak which has led to bans for gouging in 2007 and for biting Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris in last year’s Six Nations.
On that occasion, forwards coach Graham Rowntree provided a glowing character reference for Hartley, who went on to captain the country against South Africa in June.
But the Northampton hooker served another ban over Christmas for striking Ulster’s Rory Best in a Heineken Cup defeat.
“It has been addressed by all the coaches - they’ve had a word with me,” Hartley said.
“There will come a point when they can’t stand by me.
“They have put faith in me, especially people like Graham and Stuart who have said some good things about me. They have stood by me.
“I understand that trust can only go so far. I wouldn’t expect them to stand by me if I continued to break that trust. It has been addressed by the coaches.”
Hartley has been working on his hot-headedness since his six-month ban for gouging, initially with the revered psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters.
When he reflected on the ban for his clash with Best, Hartley realised he had allowed his vital pre-match mental routine to slip. That is where the chart comes in.
“This is an ongoing thing for me. It goes back to what Steve Peters told me - that every week has to be the same preparation,” Hartley said.
“There are all these things you do before a game: analysis, training, meetings - all the rugby stuff - and for me there is the mental build-up. On my recent ban I completely forgot about that.
“I have a pretty little colour-chart (in my head) which describes this for me. It is to stop you acting on emotion without thinking.”
Leicester’s Tom Youngs replaced Hartley in the autumn and was one of England’s outstanding players, making his Test debut barely three years after switching to hooker from inside centre.
Lancaster’s selection culture has been to reward the incumbent.
Hartley’s mission in Leeds during last week’s training camp was to convince Lancaster to bring back one of his key ‘generals’.
“I have a bit of experience within the team. The coaches know what I can do. I have performed for them before and hopefully there is a bit of credit in the bank,” he said.
“I have to come back into the fold, not try too hard, go about my normal ways, train well and be a good influence around the team. It is about reminding him (Lancaster) of me.
“As soon as you don’t play it makes you appreciate your time in the shirt more and makes you want to work harder to get back into the shirt.
“I am quite a motivated person. I do things in my own time that I think might give me the difference; I train hard and, thanks to Tom, I am motivated and I want to get back in.
“When we were with England Under-19s he was playing at inside centre and I was at prop. We didn’t know then we’d be competing for the same place one day!
“It’s healthy competition, which is good for the team.”
Hooker is not the only position of intense competition. Alex Goode, Saints’ star Ben Foden, Mike Brown and David Strettle are battling for two of the back three positions.
Danny Care and Ben Youngs are both after the scrum-half jersey while Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola both want to start at loose-head prop alongside either Hartley or Youngs.
“We all want to play. We all want to be in the starting XV,” Hartley said.
“The thing with this squad now is that we have an eye on 2015 as well. If we are going to win the next World Cup, we’re going to need a squad of starters.
“Tom Youngs and myself both have to play, so it’s about accepting that, working with each other and then may the best man play at the weekend.”
The last time England ran out at Twickenham they demolished world champions New Zealand 38-12.
“I was in the changing room after the All Blacks game and that was the lift we needed as a team - to show we are going in the right direction, and to see Twickenham like that as well,” Hartley said.
“It has given us a buzz and that buzz is with us going into this first home game against Scotland.”