LONDON (Reuters) - England have the perfect opportunity to get their new era under coach Steve Borthwick off to an uplifting start when they host Scotland on Saturday, the first match of a Six Nations draw that has fallen perfectly to begin the revival.
England follow up with a home game against Italy next week and then a trip to Wales. Should they get three wins under their belt they will host holders France with a level of confidence palpably missing from the last two wretched campaigns, before signing off away in Ireland.
An improvement on third and fifth-placed finishes in the last two seasons already looks likely, and with the players at Borthwick's disposal and a new, positive atmosphere in the camp, talk of the title no longer looks fanciful.
After decades of dominating the oldest fixture in international rugby, England have stumbled badly against the Scots in recent years, losing three and drawing one of the last five meetings.
However, there is already a palpable feel of confidence as Borthwick, and his inspirational defence coach Kevin Sinfield, set about "restoring the pride in the shirt and the connection with the fans."
That latter was at breaking point when Twickenham resounded to the rare sound of the hosts being booed off the pitch after they completed a poor November series with a meek defeat by South Africa.
That proved the final straw for the RFU, who promptly sacked Eddie Jones, and one thing that will be guaranteed under the new coaching structure is that the players will be giving their absolute all at every minute.
Jones's obsession with the World Cup, and his constant selectorial whims, eventually filtered through as a message that nothing really mattered before they got to France in September.
Borthwick takes a different view. "My job is to make sure the England team goes on to the pitch prepared to be able to find a way to win that game. And then we'll do next week and then the next week and the next week," he said last week. "I am very clear on that. Very clear."
He has already restored some clarity to squad selection, bringing the likes of Joe Marchant, Max Malins and Ben Earl back into the fold after Jones cut them adrift despite outstanding club form.
He has also recalled 35-year-old prop Dan Cole, who last played in the 2019 World Cup final defeat by South Africa. For a former lock and England captain, Borthwick is horrified to see England ranked 10th of the major nations in scrum success, and the return of the wily Cole is the first step towards fixing what has traditionally been a strength of the English game.
Only when he names his team on Thursday though will fans see Borthwick's thinking on the most talked about issue in his in-tray - what to do with Owen Farrell.
Borthwick was gushing in his praise when naming him as his captain, but the bigger question is whether he will play at flyhalf, where he has been in fabulous form for Saracens this season, or continue at inside centre with Marcus Smith at 10.
The signals emerging initially seemed to suggest Farrell would return to his preferred, and far more effective, position, but a series of midfield injuries have clouded the issue.
Dan Kelly, Elliot Daly and Henry Slade are all absent, leaving Manu Tuilagi, Marchant and Ollie Lawrence as the other available centres - alongside Farrell.
Exciting London Irish wing Ollie Hassell-Collins looks in line for his debut, with Anthony Watson also in the mix after his return from yet another injury.
Flanker Ben Curry is on course to step in to replace injured brother and Sale team mate Tom. Ben was due to make his debut in 2017 before suffering an injury, with Tom stepping in and quickly establishing himself as a first-team regular.
Ben subsequently made one appearance as a replacement against the United States in 2021, but now looks set for the real thing.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge)