Stuart Lancaster has steeled his men for the most pivotal phase of his short tenure by insisting they have nothing to fear as they prepare to welcome Australia, South Africa and New Zealand to Twickenham.
England are favourites to beat a reeling Wallabies outfit at headquarters today, a result which if achieved, would be the best so far of Lancaster’s reign.
And in the mind of the head coach and his players, there is no longer the aura of invincibility about the southern hemisphere heavyweights that there has invariably been in the past.
“We took on South Africa in their own back yard in the summer and while we didn’t win we should have won the third Test and that gave players tremendous self-belief and confidence that we can go toe-to-toe with them,” said Lancaster.
“We have a long way to go in these three games. The players have an inner belief that is building and the performances in South Africa certainly helped.
“I get no sense we are lacking self-confidence going into the game but equally we are not overly confident. It will be a full-on Test match.
“Australia will be bouncing back from France and wanting to put it straight. So we will need to be on our mettle.”
England are vying for a third consecutive victory over the Wallabies for the first time since their 2003 Rugby World Cup final triumph.
And captain Chris Robshaw has challenged England to restore Twickenham’s image as an impenetrable fortress, starting with today’s Cook Cup showdown.
England were unbeaten at home for four years and 22 Tests before their 2003 World Cup triumph, a run that included seven wins against the southern hemisphere giants.
In the autumn of 2002, England beat Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in succession to establish themselves as the best team in the world.
Robshaw said: “We have to step our game up. We know over the next couple of weeks it is going to get harder and harder. For myself and a lot of players it will be the first time we have played Australia and we are very excited about the challenge.
“The rivalry between England and Australia is brilliant, whether it’s cricket or rugby. As players you want to be part of that rivalry.
“I always watch the Ashes when it’s on and I grew up watching these autumn international series, watching the big teams coming to Twickenham.
“We always speak about the era leading up to 2003 when it was a fortress, teams came here and didn’t get much.
“It takes a long time to create that atmosphere and that aura around the place. Our aim is to have that again.”
England easily beat Fiji last weekend, but forwards coach Graham Rowntree also stressed the importance of regular wins over more illustrious opponents.
“We have to start beating these teams,” said Rowntree. “The rivalry is there for all of these teams coming up. They are massive challenges.
“To be able to beat a very good and very experienced Australia team would be a significant feather in our cap.
“We are going in the right direction but the proof is in the pudding and it is about time we started beating these teams in the autumn series.”
England have enjoyed more success against the Wallabies than against the Springboks or world champions New Zealand in recent years.
The visitors are beset by injuries, with key flanker David Pocock, centre Pat McCabe and lock Kane Douglas all sidelined, while lock Rob Simmons is suspended.
But England are acutely aware of how the Wallabies responded to a welter of criticism for their Rugby Championship performances, beating Argentina in Rosario – a victory that may have saved coach Robbie Deans his job – and then holding New Zealand to an 18-18 draw in Brisbane a month ago.
Lancaster has prepared his men for a backlash, a message Rowntree reinforced after the squad’s final training run at Twickenham yesterday.
“They are a cagey team, a very skilful team,” said Rowntree. “You never know where the next threat is coming from so you have to have everything covered. That is what we have found in recent years.
“This is another big step for us this weekend.”
England hold the Cook Cup following their 35-18 victory in 2010, when Chris Ashton scored twice and illuminated Twickenham with a sensational length-of-the-field effort.
Such has been the revolution in the England team over the last two years that only four players – Ashton, Dan Cole, Tom Palmer and Toby Flood – remain in the starting XV.
Ashton returns on the right wing after serving a one-match ban, with Charlie Sharples switching to the left, the only change from the seven-try 54-12 win against Fiji last week.
As part of their commercial contract with Canterbury, England will don an alternate strip which bears a striking resemblance to Arsenal’s redcurrant centenary kit.
Lancaster has built a culture in the England squad based on a pride and respect in the jersey but he also understands the commercial realities of professional rugby.
He said: “The players respect the fact it has the England rose on. They want to play for that and for each other, that is what matters to them.”
England versus Australia, the key battles. Page 7.