Steve Thompson is convinced England are heading on the right track towards next year's World Cup defence - despite their patchy form since conquering planet rugby in 2003.
England have lost ten out of 19 Tests during a disappointing reign as world champions, and their RBS Six Nations success-rate stands at just 50 per cent over the past two seasons, finishing outside the tournament's top two on each occasion.
Given that Thompson has started every one of England's Six Nations games after making his debut against Scotland in 2002, he is better placed than most to offer a realistic assessment heading into this year's campaign, which starts tomorrow when Wales arrive at Twickenham.
"We know we are going in the right direction and everyone is playing for their place in the team," said the 42 times-capped England hooker.
"In every position now there is someone putting their hand up and saying they want to be in the team, and that's the way it has got to be.
"We have a lot of players who have been gaining experience over the past couple of years, and now I think it is time we've got to stand up and put some performances."
England's autumn form guide reveals emphatic victories over Australia and Samoa, but the major talking point proved their failure to beat world leaders New Zealand after dominating possession and territory.
And it is why many believe England could prove vulnerable during this season's Six Nations as they to re-establish themselves in European rugby's blue riband event.
"We were devastated we lost that match," added Thompson, recalling the 23-19 All Blacks defeat.
"We should have won that really - it was a game we should have closed out - and we know we have got to step up another couple of notches going into this game.
"A lot of people talk about our backs, but to be honest, it's down to the forwards to give them the space to allow them to play, and there were times when we didn't do that. It is all about getting the balance right."
England's Twickenham record against Wales - eight successive wins stretching back 18 years - suggests the reigning Six Nations champions could be in for a torrid time on their latest trip to south-west London.
England also know that victory over Wales, followed by anticipated successes in Italy and Scotland later this month, would send them to Paris on March 12 with strong hopes of regaining a title they last captured eight months before winning the World Cup.
Meanwhile Mike Tindall insisted his much-criticised centre partnership with Jamie Noon can provide England with the cutting edge they need.
Tindall has urged critics to realise that an instinctive relationship with Noon will not happen overnight.
"Trying to get to know each other and learning about how each other plays is a big thing. People think it falls into place quickly and it doesn't," said Tindall.
"We're still feeling each other out. We're not at the stage where we know immediately what each other will do. But that just comes with playing, with game time, and hopefully the more we play the quicker that will come.
"Will Greenwood and I [England's World Cup-winning partnership] had probably only got to the stage where we knew each other instinctively at the time our England partnership ended.
"We need to step up two or three notches this game and then keep building. If we can get our attacking game to where our defensive game is, we will have a pretty complete team."