England's current team will surpass the achievement of their predecessors in 1992 if they can win a second successive Six Nations Grand Slam by beating Ireland in Dublin tomorrow (March 18th), former skipper Will Carling has said.
Carling, who not only led the early 1990s team to successive clean sweeps in the old Five Nations but also to the 1991 Rugby World Cup final, told the BBC: "We [the 1990s side] are just left in the wake. They went to Australia and won 3-0, never achieved before by England.
"They've then put together back-to-back Grand Slams and a world record run. It would be a massive achievement."
Carling added that with England's playing resources they should be winning Grand Slams more often, but he suggested this is a side with the potential to be particularly special and even surpass the World Cup winners of 2003.
"It's all out there in front of them and there are not many teams that have the chance to better Martin Johnson's. They could. It's about delivering," he concluded.
No team has won successive Grand Slams since the introduction of Italy to turn the Five Nations into the Six Nations, and England have an extra incentive as a win over Ireland would secure a new world record of 19 wins in a row, overtaking the run of New Zealand last year. Ironically, that winning streak was ended by the Irish last autumn in what was their first ever victory over the All Blacks.
It all means fans booking corporate hospitality for the England v Barbarians match in the Old Mutual Wealth Cup on May 28th could find themselves cheering a team of history makers onto the pitch.
The England team shows two changes to the starting line-up from the team that ran up a record points tally against Scotland last week in the Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham. Billy Vunipola, who came off the bench to score a try in the game, will start as number 8, while Anthony Watson will play on the right wing. Jack Nowell and Nathan Hughes will be on the bench, the only changes to the replacements.
Ireland make three changes, with Jared Paine and Kieran Marmion replacing the injured Rob Kearney and Conor Murray in the back row, while Iain Henderson takes the place of Kevin Toner in the second row. Henderson has scored tries on his last two starts for Ireland.
Speaking about the game and the chance to re-write the record books that it brings, England head coach Eddie Jones said: "It’s going to be quite an occasion in Dublin so we understand we have to be prepared emotionally, physically and mentally.
"The message to the players has been quite simple, we're playing Ireland on Saturday and that is the only thing that counts."
He warned that the England team is "vulnerable" to dropping its intensity after clinching the RBS Six Nations title last week, whereas, by contrast, Ireland can relax because they have nothing to lose and can simply concentrate on trying to thwart England's record bid.