Richard Hill was widely regarded as the greatest player in the finest England team of all time.
After the 2003 World Cup win, scrum-half Matt Dawson described his team-mate as “without question the best rugby player England have ever had,” while skipper Martin Johnson praised him for “consistent excellence at the highest level”.
Now Hill, 40, can see signs of greatness in the current England crop.
Next stop for Stuart Lancaster’s side is Wales at Twickenham on Sunday and a potential Triple Crown.
Hill says a win would be hugely significant, remembering how important it was when his side won the Grand Slam in 2003 – their last Triple Crown success – on their way to claiming the biggest prize of them all.
“For us as a team, that Grand Slam was important, there’s no doubt about it,” the former Saracens man tells O2.
“It gave us confidence and belief. We showed both ourselves and our opponents that we knew what to do to win.
“We could be patient to get our way out of sticky situations, or we could find a bit of magic that could make the difference.
“We also started to create an aura with that win, which was important.
“We followed it up with wins away against New Zealand and Australia, which were huge.
“We achieved something that those southern hemisphere teams didn’t think we were capable of.
“This England team can start to create an aura as well, and Saturday would be an important stepping stone towards that.”
With more than 18 months to go to the start of the World Cup, Hill says there is a balance to be struck between development and winning games.
“If England don’t win the Triple Crown, it’s not the end of their World Cup dream,” argues Hill, , who retired in 2008 and is now a mentor and ambassador.
“There are still a lot of young players in this team and there’s time to develop – to makes mistakes and learn from them.
“We did see mistakes from England in the first game against France, but in every match since I’ve seen improvements in their decision making. That’s part of the learning process.
“It culminated in the Ireland game, which could have gone either way.
“England were up against a very experienced team and it was an almighty battle, almost gladiatorial. But they showed they knew how to close such a tight game out.”
Hill, who won 71 caps for England at flanker and went on three tours with the British and Irish Lions, has been impressed with the development of Lancaster’s side and thinks they can be contenders at the World Cup.
“It’s been very encouraging and they’re on the right tracks,” he adds. “England have built on the foundations of the last couple of years.
“They started by establishing defensive foundations and now have added far more in attack.
“If you could ignore the first 10 minutes of the France game then you would be very, very happy as an England fan.”
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