Lee Dickson credits the character-building experience of last season for placing him in contention to start England’s opening QBE International against Australia.
The promise of 2011-12, when he won seven of his nine caps, faded as he slipped from contention to leave Ben Youngs and Danny Care duelling for the scrum-half duties.
Each week Dickson would be released by England and return to Northampton where he would reflect on what it took to propel his way back into Stuart Lancaster’s selection plans.
An explosive start to the current season that has forced high-profile summer arrival Kahn Fotuali’i to spend more time on the Saints bench than predicted was rewarded when Care was the scrum-half cut from the squad on Tuesday.
The Wallabies visit Twickenham a week tomorrow and Dickson is in contention once more.
“That wasn’t a nice position to be in last season, but you’re on the journey with the team,” he said.
“You don’t want to be going home, but sadly some people have to and last season I was one of those.
“I’d then go back to Northampton and probably try to do too much. By the end of the Six Nations I decided to instead try and just be me. It showed in my game – and in Northampton’s too.
“I was really happy with how I responded. I like challenges, I like people pushing me or telling me it’s not your time here now. I’ll react and get the better of them. (Northampton backs coach) Alan Dickens has been a really good help to me.
“I used to ring him on the way home every Tuesday to talk things through. He said ‘you’re there, you got picked by being you’.
“Now this year that’s shining through.”
Fotuali’i’s presence at Franklin’s Gardens was expected to push Dickson further onto the periphery, but instead the Samoan – described by some as the world’s best scrum-half – has started only two matches since leaving the Ospreys.
His influence has still had a telling impact on Dickson, however, with the 28-year-old thriving after being offered a different outlook on the game.
“(Northampton director of rugby) Jim Mallinder called me in when they were looking to sign Kahn and told me,” he said.
“You can see something like that in one of two ways – that’s me done or that’s a challenge to face up to.
“He’s a phenomenal player and I think I’ve learned a lot from him.
“As soon as he came in he was very much wanting to do stuff with me and open my eyes up, which he has done.
“I see how he sees the game now through his eyes. What he sees and what I see are different things
“Me coming into form and him really pushing me on is down to that challenge.
“You always become better when you’re playing among better players.
“Kahn has given me the belief to have a dabble. Just go, have a crack.
“It’s not just about structure, structure, structure. That’s helped my game massively.”