The penultimate leg of what would be a 2003-esque clean sweep has arrived in the shape of a Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland.
The penultimate leg of what would be a 2003-esque clean sweep has arrived for England in the shape of a Calcutta Cup clash with auld enemy Scotland.
If the hosts win on Saturday, it will subsequently set up a Grand Slam showdown in Dublin which was where they won their last seven years ago.
Will history be repeated once again in a World Cup year? It would be quite a fillip for a side that not long ago was synonymous with false dawns.
Credit must be laid at the door of the coaching staff for setting up such a clean sweep possibility. For so long Mike Ford and Brian Smith have found themselves in the firing line alongside Martin Johnson, but finally things are clicking for a team that to some is starting to look like the real deal.
Johnson rightly knows it would be stupid for England to believe the hype however. He has already warned his charges over the prospect of facing their wounded visitors while coach Andy Robinson would love nothing more than putting one over his past employers. Lawrence Dallaglio is however thinking more RWC 2015 than 2011.
Rugby's oldest rivalry has seen shocks in the past, granted not at Twickenham where the English haven't lost to Scotland since 1983 while they have only won twice in a remarkable 64 years at English rugby's HQ. The signs don't look good then for Robinson to claim his first championship victory this season. And if Italy do the unthinkable in Rome against Les Bleus, they could be looking at a wooden spoon – terrible preparation for New Zealand.
Some bookmakers have England at an anorexic 1/20 price while Scotland can be found at as much as 10/1 but is there really such a gulf between these two? Yes the English look more threatening in backplay while their visitors seem to have become somewhat over reliant on Max Evans. Robinson has chosen to bring in Simon Danielli for Nikki Walker while Euan Murray is missing due to it being a Sunday so Moray Low meets Alex Corbisiero.
Corbisiero makes his second start in 2011 due to Andrew Sheridan succumbing to injury but otherwise it should be an unchanged XV from the one that defeated the French. Louis Deacon and an in-form Tom Palmer continue in the second-row department while there unfortunately is no return to the 22 for Courtney Lawes. Tigers forward Deacon has been shielded from the spotlight compared to Palmer but his circumstances deserve a mention.
Deacon underwent surgery two years ago and only returned to action at the end of November after having six-inch needles stuck into his back muscles. A tough period.
“I didn't think I'd be playing for Leicester, let alone England,” he said, speaking to Press Association Sport.
“I have had back troubles twice now. I thought I was out of the woods but it crept up on me again. I just didn't see when it was going to get any better.
“Some days I'd feel really good and then a couple of hours later it would come back again.
“The worst point was probably going to bed at night hoping you'd wake up in the morning and it would be OK and then it wasn't.
“Things have turned around quite quickly. I had only played eight or nine games for Leicester and I found myself in the England squad.”
An England squad who, with a Calcutta Cup triumph on Sunday, can make all the pain suffered in their own revival worthwhile and create some deja vu at Lansdowne Road.
Ones to watch:
For England: He may have this week announced that there is now a James Haskell app on itunes (the brand continues to grow) but it is worth saying the flanker's form is now back up to where it should be. Another strong ball-carrying performance here and his World Cup case will continue to strengthen.
For Scotland: Joe Ansbro's performance against France on his last outing in a Scotland jersey was one to take your hat off to. Dynamic and direct, Northampton's youngster has now pretty much made the international number thirteen jersey his own and rightly so. His personal battle with Mike Tindall will be interesting and if he can get Scotland going forward, maybe just maybe the bookies will be paying out more than they thought north of the border.
Head-to-head: Two very different full-backs could have a major say in matters at Twickenham on Sunday. Ben Foden will attack the defensive line alongside Chris Ashton while the Scots will want the dead-eyed goal-kicking of Chris Paterson to play its own part.
2010: 15-15 draw at Murrayfield
2009: England won 26-12 at Twickenham
2008: Scotland won 15-9 at Murrayfield
2007: England won 42-20 at Twickenham
2006: Scotland won 18-12 at Murrayfield
2005: England won 43-22 at Twickenham
2004: England won 35-13 at Murrayfield
2003: England won 40-9 at Twickenham
2002: England won 29-3 at Murrayfield
2001: England won 43-3 at Twickenham
2000: Scotland won 19-13 at Murrayfield
Prediction: The hosts should have enough. England by 12!
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs , 8 Nick Easter , 7 James Haskell, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 Paul Doran-Jones, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Danny Care, 21 Jonny Wilkinson, 22 Matt Banahan.
Scotland: 15 Chris Paterson, 14 Simon Danielli, 13 Joe Ansbro, 12 Sean Lamont, 11 Max Evans, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Rory Lawson, 8 Kelly Brown, 7 John Barclay, 6 Nathan Hines, 5 Alastair Kellock (capt), 4 Richie Gray, 3 Moray Low, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Geoff Cross, 18 Richie Vernon, 19 Alasdair Strokosch, 20 Mike Blair, 21 Dan Parks, 22 Nick De Luca.
Date: Sunday, March 13
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: JÃ©rÃ´me Garces (France), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Television match official: Tony Redmond (Ireland)
By Adam Kyriacou