As he prepares to embark on a campaign to wrestle back the 2019 Guinness Six Nations crown from Ireland, Eddie Jones says standards are higher than ever in the Championship.
The England head coach, who won the Grand Slam with England in 2016 before making it back-to-back Championships in 2017, will lead his side into their opener in Dublin on Saturday.
Many observers, players and coaches around the game expect this Championship to be the most competitive ever, with Ireland, Wales and England second, third and fourth in the world rankings, respectively.
“The standard of the tournament has definitely increased,” commented Jones. “Compared to 2016, all the teams are fitter and better organised.
“It’s fantastic for the Championship, the fans and for European rugby.
“It makes it all the more challenging which is fantastic for us. We want to win the Guinness Six Nations.”
With this year’s Championship just days away England are looking to improve on 2018, when they finished fifth in the final standings.
But since then the team has been on a steady rise, adding defence coach John Mitchell, attack coach Scott Wisemantel and winning three of four autumn internationals.
“The main thing is we stay focused and work out how we can be better,” Jones added.
“I think we have done a great job of doing that. We’ve changed our staff, we’ve changed the way we’ve trained and our playing philosophy. I think we’re getting closer to finding the clarity to be the best team in the world.
“We’re not quite there, but we’ll get there.”
In a compelling first round of fixtures, France host Wales on Friday night before Scotland and Italy meet at BT Murrayfield and England take on Ireland at Aviva Stadium.
Anticipation is already reaching fever pitch for Ireland versus England – the last two Championship winners – with Jones responding to Joe Schmidt’s comments of expecting a ‘brutal’ encounter.
He added: “I’ve never seen a Six Nations game that isn’t brutal! You have to be prepared for a physical game at the highest level.
“I’m sure Ireland aren’t going to be sunbathing over in Portugal, they will be working hard on the physical side too.
“It’s going to be a tough old contest. I think it will be a high kicking game but it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from Ireland.
“We don’t have to think about the pressure, all we have to think about is preparing well.”