England scrum-half Ben Youngs is eager to play a central role in the latest World Cup dress rehearsal knowing opportunities to shine are dwindling.
Twickenham will stage its first match of the year when Italy arrive for today’s RBS 6 Nations clash before providing the main arena for the global showpiece in September and October.
Once the Azzurri have been negotiated, only six further games — four of them on home soil — will remain to complete preparations for England 2015.
That urgency is not lost on Youngs, who is once again making the scrum-half jersey his own, nearly two years after the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia left him out of form and unmotivated.
“Every game is a dress rehearsal for a World Cup. Italy is a dress rehearsal for a home World Cup,” the Leicester captain said.
“We’ve only got seven games before our first game in the tournament against Fiji, so there are only so many dress rehearsals you can have.”
Backs coach Andy Farrell has also demanded England rise to the second of their five cup finals.
Farrell believes the 21-16 victory over Wales last weekend has generated a “feelgood factor” and the Red Rose have since been installed as new favourites to win a first RBS 6 Nations title under Stuart Lancaster.
Success against Italy will set-up a mouthwatering showdown against Ireland in Dublin on March 1 and Farrell has urged England to continue building momentum.
“In the Six Nations, you have to make sure that mentally and emotionally, you’re in the right place to put your plan into action on the field,” said Farrell.
“That’s important against Italy as well, because let’s not forget that it was a cup final for everyone last weekend. To win a championship, you have five of those cup finals.
“Earlier in the week, we showed the players what they did well against Wales and what they didn’t do well.
“Mentally we brought them down a bit and then built them back up again. Hopefully against Italy we’ll be at that cup final stage again.”
Meanwhile Italy captain Sergio Parisse senses England are vulnerable to the afterglow of their Cardiff heroics.
Parisse accepts England were impressive at the Millennium Stadium but hopes to exploit a chink in their armour as Italy seek to atone for a comprehensive defeat by Ireland.
“England have won a huge battle in a very unfriendly stadium and they may lack a bit of focus when they face us,” the Italy captain said.
“I’m not saying they will underestimate us, but clearly after such a crucial win there is the risk their attention to detail will be a bit more relaxed. We watched them play Wales and we’ve seen what everybody else has — they are a strong, in-form team.
“They are filled with young, exciting talent and they won a high-intensity encounter so clearly this will be tough. But we are looking at the challenge as a chance to prove to ourselves we are still a competitive team. Mentally we may arrive more prepared than we have in the past.”
With England raising the curtain on World Cup year at Twickenham, Italy have been scripted for a damage limitation exercise against 1/150 match favourites.
The Azzurri arguably have a bigger battle to fight in the shape of their possible wooden spoon decider against Scotland on February 28, but Parisse knows a strong showing at Twickenham will lift spirits for Edinburgh.
“We just have to stay focused on our game and play the next opponents,” the number eight said. “A convincing game against England will help us get back on track and look at the Murrayfield challenge with confidence.”