World Cup winner Mark Regan insists England need to win the Six Nations if they are serious about lifting the Webb Ellis trophy later this year.
And he believes they can deliver a huge psychological blow ahead of their pool stage encounter with Wales by silencing the Millennium Stadium tonight and winning in Cardiff.
England kick off the Six Nations in one of the most intimidating atmospheres in world rugby, where their grand slam dream was shattered two years ago.
The Red Rose have won nothing in three years under head coach Stuart Lancaster, save for a legion of admirers impressed by their remodelled culture and renewed national pride.
But as Regan learned 12 years ago when he was part of the squad that eventually claimed the World Cup in Australia, winning is a habit, and a habit that the current incumbents are clearly still to learn.
“Right now England’s win ratio is not good enough,” said former Leeds Tykes hooker Regan of a national team who lost half of their 14 games last year.
“We had a winning mentality in 2003. We won the Six Nations, went to New Zealand and won down there, then of course went to Australia and won the World Cup.
“Winning was a habit for us, to the point where it became harder to lose. That’s not the case now and England have got to get something out of this Six Nations.
“They weren’t particularly pleased with the way the Autumn Internationals went. They beat an Australia team they were expected to beat and that’s it. It’s time for these guys to stand up and be counted, to say ‘we are England and we won’t be beaten’.
“There’s been a lot of talk about this being ‘the’ year – now they’ve got to go out and prove it. Because if they don’t do well over the next few weeks it could be very damaging for morale – especially if they lose to Wales in their last meeting before the World Cup.”
As crucial as this game is in the context of the Six Nations, the future meeting between the two in September is an inescapable subplot.
Lancaster has played down any relevance tonight’s fixture has on the September 26 encounter at Twickenham, but Regan believes it will be on the mind of the players and the staff.
“This is a huge Six Nations in the context of World Cup year – let no one tell you otherwise,” said Regan, who made two appearances in the grand slam-winning team of 2003 and played twice more in the World Cup Down Under.
“And this is the biggest game.
“Psychologically it’s huge and will definitely have a bearing on the World Cup, no matter how much they deny that from within the camp.
“Win tonight, do well in the Six Nations and it gives the whole team confidence. And not just that, it gives the whole country a belief that their team can do it, and that’s infectious.”
England are hampered tonight by a long injury list that includes Owen Farrell, Joe Launchbury, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Morgan.
There are five survivors from the 30-3 mauling suffered last time at the Millennium Stadium, while the Wales XV tonight has a combined 648 caps compared to England’s 358.
This has presented opportunities to the likes of Jonathan Joseph at centre, winger Anthony Watson and fly-half Danny Cipriani on the bench, all of whom will have the bigger picture on their mind, believes Regan.
“As players we were thinking about the World Cup even at the Six Nations,” said Regan, who was unable to supplant Steve Thompson 12 years ago, but wore the No 2 shirt in the World Cup final in Paris four years later.
“We wanted a settled side and a settled squad going to Australia, and that meant a settled side in the Six Nations.
“We were No 1 in the world and at least 10 of our players could have walked into any team in the world. So it was on us as squad men to try and force our way into that group.
“This England don’t have it that easy, but it’s created opportunities for others. One man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. England will be under no illusions, the atmosphere is going to be white hot and it’s going to be a very tough game.”
Attacking skills coach Mike Catt is confident England will atone for one of the bleakest days in their history. Two years older and wiser, Catt draws on last year’s victory over Wales at Twickenham for belief as the Red Rose seek to make a triumphant start to the Championship.
“That day hurt quite a lot. Every English person hurt that day – it wasn’t just the team,” said Catt.
“It was two years ago. Since then as a team we have been successful against Wales and we are excited. We are looking forward to it. It won’t happen again because we are more experienced and these players have been in big cauldrons in New Zealand and South Africa. Those things will stand us in good stead.”