Courtney Lawes believes he is hitting new heights that could spur him on to claim a British and Irish Lions Test shirt.
Northampton lock Lawes felt he was reaching career-best form during England’s push to retain their Six Nations crown earlier this year.
But now the 28-year-old revealed he feels in even better shape as the Lions’ 10-match New Zealand tour hits full swing.
Lawes knows the size of the challenge to secure a shirt to face the All Blacks, but insisted he has faced a selection fight in every England camp run by boss Eddie Jones.
“I feel I’m reaching a new level in my potential, so hopefully I can keep carrying that on,” said Lawes, who will partner Iain Henderson at lock in Tuesday’s Highlanders clash.
“I think this is the longest I’ve stayed fit in my entire career, and I’m reaping the benefits. I’m really enjoying my rugby at the minute, and can’t wait to get out there.
“I feel a lot better now than I did in the Six Nations. So hopefully I can continue on from that as well.
“I feel like I’m at the stage where I’m going to enjoy all this, and not let the pressure get to me. I’m enjoying the company of these lads, the whole experience, and of course the rugby.”
Lawes will go up against Ireland’s Henderson, England duo Maro Itoje and George Kruis, and Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones for a Lions Test spot.
Lions boss Warren Gatland preferred the 58-cap second row to his England colleague Joe Launchbury, and Lawes revealed he is intent on maximising every opportunity on tour.
“I’m definitely used to strong competition: since Eddie (Jones) came in with England there’s been huge competition for places in the second row, and luckily I’m in the best form I can be, or have been in a long time.
“So I’ll just do whatever I can, and hopefully it’s enough to get that Test start.”
The Lions toasted their gritty 12-3 win over runaway Super Rugby leaders the Crusaders by enjoying an old-fashioned sing song in the AMI Stadium changing rooms.
Lawes revealed Greig Laidlaw got up and kick-started a rousing rendition of the tour’s Scottish anthem Highland Cathedral – drawing all 41 players and coaching staff in together.
“We clapped the boys off the pitch, had a good chat with them, then we sat down, Warren (Gatland) had his word, and Alun Wyn (Jones) spoke too. Then Greig Laidlaw started the Scottish song, which was great fun. We all joined in. It shows the spirit of the team that you all get stuck in to things like that – and that you actually want to, that you want to be a part of it.”