England coach Eddie Jones has promised an “explosion” from his Six Nations title-chasing side in their Championship finale against Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday.
If tournament leaders Wales complete a Grand Slam by beating Ireland in Cardiff earlier in the day they will be crowned champions.
But a Welsh defeat allied to an England win over Scotland would see Jones’ men to the title despite their 21-13 loss in Cardiff last month.
England are also thirsting for Calcutta Cup revenge after a shock 25-13 defeat by Scotland at Murrayfield in last year’s edition of rugby union’s oldest international fixture.
That reverse was the start of a run of five straight full international defeats, with England also losing to France and Ireland as they finished a lowly fifth in the Six Nations before being beaten in the first two Tests of their tour of South Africa.
But recent results have left Jones in an optimistic mood ahead of this year’s World Cup in Japan.
“We’re nowhere near our best, we’re just slowly getting there” he said. “We’re going in a great direction and Saturday will be a bit of an explosion.”
Jones is hoping to guide England to their second World Cup title having been the losing Australia coach when the Red Rose won the 2003 final in his native Sydney.
“We want to be the best team in the world and we know we’re not the best team in the world, but we’ve got an opportunity on Saturday to show that we’re the best team in the Six Nations and approaching the best team in the world and we’re not going to miss that opportunity.”
As for the run of defeats that England suffered in 2018, Jones said: “It was a great experience for us. I don’t think we’d be in the positive situation we’re in now if we didn’t go through that.
“It allowed us to change the way we play, change the way we train, change the way we select.“
No Joe, no problem
Jones has made four changes to the side that thrashed Italy 57-14 at Twickenham last weekend, notably dropping 21-year-old wing Joe Cokanasiga from the matchday squad completely despite the Fiji-born powerhouse’s man-of-the-match display.
“It’s a bit like in cricket. When you’re a young batsman and your first Test is against the West Indies in Perth and you bat No 3, you might not get too many runs,” said Jones, who often references the difficulty of facing the feared Caribbean pace attacks of the 1980s on what was then the world’s quickest pitch.
“So you pick a Test where they’re playing on a flat track, bat them at six, let them get runs, then you bring them in the next Test and you quietly build them up.“
For all Scotland, inspired by fly-half Finn Russell, beat England last year, history is against them.
Scotland have not won at Twickenham since 1983 and come into Saturday’s match on the back of three successive defeats, including last week’s 18-11 loss at home to Wales where they failed to make their possession count.
Their most recent visit to London saw Scotland hammered 61-21 by England in 2017.
But coach Gregor Townsend insisted they would not give up the Calcutta Cup without a fight.
“We are defending the Calcutta Cup and it took a lot of work to win that back,” he said.
“It took 10 years, so we want to make sure we hold onto it for a bit longer.“
The former Scotland playmaker added: “If no-one does think we’re going to win, then that’s fine.
“Scotland teams tend to be underdogs on a number of occasions and it usually brings the best out in them.”
Perhaps the most significant of six changes made by Townsend to his starting XV was the return of openside flanker Hamish Watson, recalled in place of the injured Jamie Ritchie after impressing off the bench against Wales.
“I thought his impact was outstanding, the pace and power he brought in the last 20 minutes was great,” said Townsend.