BAGSHOT, England (Reuters) - England face Ireland on Saturday ready to make history and embrace “greatness” but the players and coach Eddie Jones are well aware that if there is anywhere in the rugby world where such dreams can be derailed it is Dublin.
Six years ago under Martin Johnson England travelled to the newly-opened Aviva Stadium dreaming of a grand slam but were blown away by Ireland and could not have looked more miserable when collecting the trophy as Six Nations champions.
They had a similarly deflating experience 10 years earlier in a decider put back to October because of the foot-and-mouth ban on travel, when the title again felt like a consolation prize.
They did complete the sweep in Dublin in 2003 with a brilliant performance that catapulted them towards World Cup glory but a fired-up Ireland on home turf on St Patrick’s Day weekend remains an extremely tough final hurdle.
Throw into the mix potential successive grand slams and a world record 19th successive win for England on one side and a risk for Ireland of losing their World Cup top-four seeding should they lose, then a huge occasion is guaranteed.
“We know the pitfalls of what can happen and we know how much the Irish dislike the English and how much they like spoiling the party,” Jones told reporters on Thursday.
“Most teams in the Six Nations have one big performance in them so we know Ireland are going to come out all guns blazing.”
That 2011 setback was one of six defeats in their last nine visits for England and Jones said that record helped ensure there was no risk of complacency with the title already in the bag.
“We’ve certainly had guys who were involved in those games (Dublin defeats) talk about it,” Jones said. “Having won the title makes us vulnerable. We’re consistently looking out for small things that lead to complacency, but it’s always around the corner.”
Jones declined to discuss the prospect of a possible match against New Zealand in November but did, as he always does, hold up the All Blacks as the level his team need to aspire to.
Victory on Saturday would take England past New Zealand’s tier-one record of 18 successive wins, while claiming back-to-back grand slams, and is a feat not even the World Cup winning team under Clive Woodward could manage.
“I think the team has embraced it but to go from where we are to greatness takes another step of endeavour,” Jones said.
”It is like climbing up a mountain. Every time you go to another level the ground becomes more unstable, your ears hurt, your nose hurts.
“It is exactly the same when you are climbing the ladder of success - everything becomes a bit harder. And sometimes you have got to just stop and say, ‘Right, this is what is ahead of us,’ and probably we weren’t very good at that. We have done that now and I think the players have re-equipped for the challenges ahead.”
Jones declined to accept any praise for turning England into such a force in his 14 months in charge following their World Cup disappointment and instead said his predecessor Stuart Lancaster should take much of the credit.
“He was the guy that brought this team through, went through some hard yards with them, most of the players are still the same,” he said.
“I got them at a good stage. A lot of the groundwork has been done and we have a fantastic group of players.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Neville Dalton