Dylan Hartley losing Northampton place is affecting England captaincy chances
Dylan Hartley continues to lose ground in his quest to be named England hooker and captain for the RBS 6 Nations after being confined to the bench for Northampton's Aviva Premiership clash with Leicester.
For a second successive weekend, Mike Haywood's superior form has kept him in the number two jersey with Saints picking their strongest available team for the East Midlands derby.
Adding to Hartley's disappointment at featuring among the replacements is that England head coach Eddie Jones will be watching from the Welford Road stands, just four days before announcing his first England squad.
Hartley is understood to have been identified by Jones as Chris Robshaw's successor as Red Rose captain, but given his second choice status at Northampton he is running out of opportunities to advance his claim.
While England's most capped available forward watches from the bench at Welford Road, his closest rival and the starting hooker throughout last autumn's World Cup will be leading Leicester.
Tom Youngs will have the chance to convince Jones he remains the nation's best option, while at Twickenham Stoop Jamie George - a second hooker present at England 2015 - is at the helm for another Premiership title showdown when Saracens face Harlequins.
Having recovered from a lengthy spell of concussion, Hartley was drafted straight into the starting XV for the Boxing Day upset at London Irish but has since been demoted to a spot among the replacements.
England flanker Tom Wood features for Northampton for the first time since damaging his shoulder against Gloucester on November 27, joining Hartley on the bench.
Also of interest to Jones will be the performance of Leicester prop Dan Cole, who alongside Youngs is restored to the front row following last Saturday's set-piece calamity against Saracens.
Saints' Kieran Brookes was shaping up to be England's preferred tighthead for the Six Nations until he was struck down by a knee injury, so Cole is back and in pole position and eager to atone for his role in a retreating scrum at Allianz Park.
"Dan has been good for us this season. His work around the field is phenomenal. There's a lot more to Cole than just set-piece," Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill said.
"But there's no point being a really good prop who doesn't scrummage, it doesn't work.
"Form can drift a little bit and he's not scrummaging as well as he can do, but he has a pretty good forum to deal with that on Saturday and he's a quality player and his form will get better.
"I don't think he's far off his best - if you watched him against Munster home and away last month he was outstanding around the field and at the set-piece. Our set-piece won us the game at Munster.
"There's a lot to like about Dan, the same with Tom Youngs. Everyone focuses on the odd bad throw from Tom, but he's been outstanding in every department. When those two make errors it appears to be magnified for some reason."
While the more intriguing England duels are to be found at Welford Road, forwards coach Steve Borthwick will be present for the clash between Saracens and Harlequins in search for clues to influence selection.
Jack Clifford, a contender at openside, has been picked in a Quins back row that includes Chris Robshaw and will be up against Saracens' Will Fraser.
Further head-to-heads of notes are between wings Marland Yarde and Chris Ashton, full-backs Mike Brown and Alex Goode and props Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola.