England head coach Stuart Lancaster insists only the final stage of the Ryder Cup can compare with today’s climactic round of the RBS Six Nations.
The race for the title has been reduced to three teams, with Wales and Ireland competing against England to be crowned champions on an afternoon of three staggered kick-offs.
Favourites England will conclude the schedule knowing the points target they must hunt down against France at Twickenham to end a sequence of three successive runners-up finishes.
Lancaster believes the golfing showpiece contested by Europe and the United States every two years is the only sporting occasion that can match the drama created by the Six Nations’ refusal to synchronise the last instalment of games.
“I can’t think of another situation in sport where you’d go into it with this points differential that can affect the psychology, so it is different from a World Cup,” Lancaster said.
“The only scenario I can think of that is similar is the final day of the Ryder Cup when you’re ahead or behind when the singles are coming.
“It’s that sort of feeling. It will tell us a lot about the players, but it is a pretty unique situation as well.”
Graham Rowntree has braced Twickenham for a thunderous forward collision tonight.
Ireland and Wales are also in the hunt for the crown on a day promising captivating sporting theatre that will unfold over three staggered kick-offs, with points difference almost certain to decide the outcome. Pivotal to the outcome at Twickenham will be the battle between two huge packs with muscular reinforcements awaiting orders on the bench.
“France’s pack are always a challenge. They’re huge men,” forwards coach and former England prop Rowntree said.
“They’re always a real test. You don’t get many tougher tests as a forward than playing against a French pack.
“Last weekend they used their size to their advantage against Italy. They scrummed well against Italy and drove well.
“There aren’t many teams doing that to Italy at the moment and I’ve no doubt they’ll come to Twickenham looking to do the same to us.
“Two years ago we were lucky to win here. They played exceptionally well and that was a really tough day at the office for us up front. The forward battle is just one battle we’ll have to win.
“There is a real hunger and determination about the players this week. Any French team that comes to Twickenham is a handful, regardless of what’s riding on the game.”
Wales open a nerve-jangling final afternoon in Rome before attention switches to Edinburgh where Ireland will seek to overhaul England’s points cushion of plus four and set their main rivals a challenging target.
Italy and Scotland will not simply roll over, however, as the Six Nations draws to a dramatic close.
“I’m not sure about the other games. Obviously we’ll have an eye on them, but it’s about us,” Rowntree said.
“It’s an overused phrase, but this game is all about us and our performance. We’ve focused on that all week and the guys have performed really well in training.
“There has been a real bite to training. We’ve had to train smart – it’s about leaving plenty in the tank for a big performance.
“We have to make the most of France having had a six-day turn around and certainly we’ve looked after the guys this week. We’ve trained sharply.
“There is a real hunger to perform well and take our chances. We were a bit frustrated that we didn’t do that against Scotland and everyone can see that.”
Rowntree was cautious over relating England’s World Cup prospects on home soil to whether they are able to improve on a sequence of three successive runners-up finishes.
“Winning would certainly be a great experience for us. We could do with winning any Championship, any trophy, but that will come on the back of performance,” he said. England have made one change to their starting XV with Geoff Parling replacing Dave Attwood in the second row, while Nick Easter returns to the bench.
“It was a very tough decision to drop Dave and that was always going to be the case when you have a full deck of cards to select from, which we almost have now,” Rowntree said.
“It’s tough on Dave because he’s been very good for us. His performance against Wales was outstanding, but Geoff brings experience and leadership at the line out.
“Nick has been great for us and I can’t speak highly enough about him coming back into this group.
“He gives us flexibility covering three positions and gives us raw horsepower off the bench.”
Parling said: “These sort of games are when you probably see a team’s character. We know there is a lot of pressure on it and we shouldn’t hide away from that.
“We said at the start of the tournament: we have got to win it. We’ve come second for three years running.
“We messed up a bit in two games again, but we’ve got a chance here to put things right and win it.”