Byline: Chris Jones
SCHALK BRITS, the outstanding hooker in the Guinness Premiership, is threatening to expose Dylan Hartley's shortcomings as an international No2 when Saracens tackle Northampton tomorrow.
The hosts are second, five points ahead of Sarries, which makes this match at Franklins Gardens one neither team can afford to lose because finishing in the top two earns home advantage in the play-off semi-finals.
England team manager Martin Johnson sees Hartley as his first-choice hooker going into next year's World Cup. However, the Northampton captain is error prone and was yellowcarded for killing the ball in last weekend's win over Gloucester.
Most damningly, Hartley (right) has failed to live up to his billing as a livewire operator in the loose at Test level and with Brits playing world-class rugby, the comparison could be damaging.
Brits, who knows playing for Sarries is harming his chances of being part of South Africa's World Cup defence in New Zealand, believes his particular attributes -- pace and handling skills -- are now being recognised in England because the grounds are harder and Sarries have embraced a more expansive game plan.
And although he is not 100 per cent satisfied with the team's play, his own performances in last Saturday's 37-18 destruction of Harlequins at Wembley, where he played like an extra back row forward and landed a try, does not bode well for Hartley.
"We are scoring more tries but we still have to get the set piece right," said Brits. "I have played against Dylan twice and he is a very good player, a great competitor and this is a massive game for both teams.
"We have already qualified for the Heineken Cup and that will be something special to experience next season but we still have a lot to play for in this campaign and our ambition is to win the Premiership title.
"We have created winning momentum and the rugby here is similar in terms of pace to Super 14 but with more of a feudal edge, with the set piece absolutely vital.
"If I can provide a bit of magic to make that happen, then I will be very happy and I am ready to do whatever is necessary to make Sarries successful. …