Jonny Wilkinson believes Grand Slam-chasing England are beginning to show the hallmarks of the team that conquered the world in 2003.
England’s current vintage took a step towards their first RBS 6 Nations clean sweep since that era of Red Rose dominance with a 17-9 victory over France. Martin Johnson, England’s captain in 2003 and now the team manager, will not countenance any Grand Slam talk.
But the last time England were unbeaten three games into the championship was in 2003 - and Wilkinson senses a similar momentum building in the current squad.
“What we are doing here is based on good values and a good foundation and that does remind me of 2003” Wilkinson said. “Not in a romantic ‘we are in exactly the same place’ way. This is a different environment because rugby has moved on. In rugby you can’t just build a team straight away. You build a spirit, togetherness, understanding and momentum.
“In 2003 something very solid was put in place and time was taken through attention to detail to develop it, to stick with it, to give guys an opportunity and continue to move on. That team lost Grand Slam deciders but they didn’t stop us from improving.
“This team has done a lot of learning along the way. You can gather momentum, whether you are winning or not, and it can have a snowball effect.
“Each game we have played so far in the Six Nations and in the autumn has called upon something different from the team.
“Maybe once or twice you are found wanting but a lot of the time the guys have been able to find whatever it is that has been needed to win.”
That was certainly the case against France. As recently as November, England were found wanting in a physical battle against South Africa.