LEINSTER'S Richardt Strauss will go toe-to-toe with Ulster's Rory Best for the right to wear Ireland's number two jersey for the 2013 Six Nations.
"The Six Nations holds massive importance and has a good history. I'm very excited about the prospect of being involved in it. But there's a lot of hard work that has to go in for me to be in that squad," he said.
"That's why everyone has got to go back to the provinces and perform and, hopefully, get into that squad."
Strauss has the advantage of holding the jersey from his first two caps against South Africa and Argentina; Best the advantage of pulling it on 62 times.
The Leinster front-row forward will take nothing for granted as Best is likely to return from injury against Northampton Saints on Friday week. He has been sidelined for a month since straining ligaments in his neck against the Dragons in the PRO12 League.
Strauss will have to maintain, even improve, his form from the November internationals in the next four rounds of the Heineken so as to keep a hard-charging Best at bay.
"I had to wait longer than most lads to make my international debut and I'm really just relishing every opportunity I get," added the 26-year-old.
"We've had a couple of big games with Leinster over the last few seasons, but international rugby was always going to be a big step up.
"You get the best players from every country playing and it's been a great opportunity and experience for me to be part of."
It has whetted his appetite. For the Pretoria-born converted openside to make further progress, he will have to hold off the very worthy claims of his rival Best.
The Banbridge man, still a youthful 30, was on everyone's lips at the end of last season as the likely British & Irish Lions Test starter in Australia next summer.
This is a measure of the stature in which Best is held as a powerful scrummager, who has shed weight in recent seasons to become an all-round operator for club and country.
In contrast, Strauss has been able to retain his expertise at the breakdown from his days as an openside and build the basics of being a hooker.
Perhaps, this will be the tightest call Ireland coach Declan Kidney will have to make for the Six Nations. Everything will hang on club form.