I have been asked repeatedly about how the current England side measure up to the team of 2003. The direct answer is that they do not. I would not swap a single member of the 2003 squad for a player from today’s England team.
It may sound harsh but I am 100 per cent certain that England 2017 are of the same mind-set. They would not want any of us. That decision is not based on skill or talent, or on an ability to deliver in the professional era. The group that will face Ireland in Dublin this weekend and stands on the threshold of a record-breaking run of 19 games undefeated is more than capable of improving and challenging for the World Cup in Japan in 2019.
Rather it is based on the spirit of the team, the events that shape your collective experiences, the tests that harden your resolve. You cannot replicate that bond and it binds you forever. The respect, the commitment, the blood, the surgery; you have been through them all with the lads you stand alongside.
The question of choosing between those players from 2003 and those from 2017 is a laboured point. Ask me if I would like a game with Jonathan Joseph and Maro Itoje and I would bite your hand off. Equally, I would expect Ben Youngs to say he would like to have a run with Jonny Wilkinson at 10 and Lawrence Dallaglio in front of him at No8.
Mutual respect and admiration flows between great players. But put them in a corner and say who is better? It is always the lads with whom you have stared down defeat and pain, and fought with for victory.
Any team that wants to make it into the history books, must first write their own story and the current England side are doing just that. They are a team that has built a winning mentality, coming through tough times and difficult games and finding ways to secure the result.
Ireland in Dublin hurts. The hits are elbows and knees, the ferocity is relentless
This proves they have built a deep level of trust, and this bond is going to be severely tested in Dublin. Ireland in St Patrick's week, after the adrenalin rush of Cheltenham, and against a side with their backs against the wall, means that the last game of England's 2017 Six Nations campaign is their toughest by far.
Forget the results, Ireland are a better side than their losses suggest. They have a point to prove, and we saw last Friday in Cardiff what desperation can do to a team's cause. That night it was Wales who stood on the precipice, with many of their biggest players facing a summer watching the Lions on TV. On the night, Wales gave a furious account of themselves for 80 minutes. They were a runaway train at contact points and the big Welsh names demanded plane tickets to New Zealand.
Now it is Ireland's turn to rebound. England will be their focus and it will be unlike anything the team have come across before.
I had some truly defining moments in Ireland, some good (the refusal to change ends before our win in 2003) and some niggling, painful defeats (the rescheduled Test match of 2001, which blew our chance for a first Grand Slam).
England will be pushed and pulled to breaking point, and unless they are rock solid, they will shatter
Ireland in Dublin hurts. The hits are elbows and knees, the ferocity is relentless. Two defeats in a row would hurt Ireland and their players’ Lions chances, so they will be whirling dervishes. As there is no Grand Slam or Championship on the line for Ireland it will also release any inhibition in their play.
England will be pushed and pulled to breaking point, and unless they are rock solid, they will shatter. This is where they will have to show their mettle; can they ride out the storm, and the ferocity that will inevitably come? Can they remain calm enough take the points and opportunities when they arise?
I have watched England 2017 grow and I have seen them up close and personal. Their quality is evident, as is the drive of their coach who has called the game against Ireland a World Cup final. It may not quite be that, but should England win back-to-back Grand Slams - without George Kruis, and with Mako and Billy Vunipola and Anthony Watson missing for nearly four games, four players who are genuinely world class - then there can be no question that this would be the finest England team of the Six Nations professional era.
It would be a breathtaking chapter in their development and rightly deserves to be written down in the history books.