Jason Robinson says he can see increasing similarities between the England squad which Eddie Jones is building and the World Cup-winning vintage of 2003, describing it as a "very exciting time" for England fans.
Robinson, who scored 30 tries in 56 international matches, including a memorable effort in the 2003 final against Australia, said the depth of the current squad, their growing self-belief, and their ability to find ways to win despite not being at their best, were all hallmarks of the 2003 team.
"I like what Eddie Jones is doing," Robinson said. "I like the way he is challenging players. Young guys like Maro Itoje. I know he's injured at the minute but the way Eddie dealt with him, taking the heat off him when he was getting so much media attention [during the Six Nations], saying 'Look, there are still areas he needs to improve'.
"Every time you hear the guys now they seem grounded, but also very confident that they can deliver when it counts."
He added: " There was a time when it was said that England didn't have world class players. Well they have now. Guys like Owen Farrell who is consistently brilliant. That combination with [George] Ford, which almost got thrown away last year, has come back and England are better for it.
"You look at Billy [Vunipola] and he has got better and better, his ball-carrying is immense. He is as good as anybody in the world at taking the ball forward. Mako [Vunipola] has gone from being a good, solid player with a decent set-piece to all of a sudden making a lot of carries. His ball-carrying in the loose has gone up a level. You've got [George] Kruis and [Maro] Itoje who have come on leaps and bounds.
"So we've got some fantastic players. Between now and the next World Cup the key is to make sure everybody is world class and everyone gets better. It's consistency that counts. But I like what I'm seeing at the moment."
Jones's team face Australia at Twickenham on Saturday in their final match of 2016 with a win ensuring they will equal England's record 14-match winning streak set by the 2003 team. Robinson said thoughts about records or runs would be a long way from the players' minds, insisting he could hardly remember the run 13 years ago.
"It's more something for the media and the public to talk about," he noted, adding that England would simply concentrate on producing a good performance against a team who will be "hurting badly" from the 3-0 series whitewash they suffered over the summer.
"I don't care who you are," Robinson said. "If you have had a 3-0 whitewash at home, that doesn't go away quickly. That will be in their minds. Beating England at Twickenham will not change what happened in the summer but would ease it considerably. That's why I think Eddie has gone out there early doors and just thrown a few things out there [about Australia's scrummaging] because it's a massive game.
"Any time England play Australia it's always a great game. And the last time we played them at Twickenham [in the group stages of last year's Rugby World Cup] we got spanked. So it's got all the ingredients. There will be quite a few words in the build-up I'm sure."
With the England players' confidence and self-belief improving with each passing week, though, Robinson said there was every reason to be optimistic when looking ahead to Japan 2019.
"The important thing between now and the next World Cup is to keep improving and learning; keep gaining experience. Because that really does make a difference. When you are in trouble, on the back foot, in injury time and the game is calling out to be won....the next three years will give them that experience.
"Back before we went on that [unbeaten 2003] run, we lost games. We had shocking defeats down in the southern hemisphere. We didn't quite win grand slams. We got pipped at the post. But we learned from those defeats. By the time of the 2003 World Cup we knew how to win games. It didn't matter if it was hammering it down, or it was 30C. We had all the tools in the box to bring out to win the game.
"That is what is happening with this team. With Eddie Jones in charge and young players growing in confidence and experience, there is no reason they can't go on and do something special.
"It won't bother me if they lose a couple of games on the way, because you quite often learn more in defeat. It's very exciting times because you have someone in charge now who wants more, of everything. He is challenging the players, the coaching staff and himself."