Dylan Hartley knows England are caught in their rivals’ crosshairs after climbing out of the doldrums under Eddie Jones.
Jones’ men have amassed 19 victories under the guidance of their Australian head coach, tasting defeat only once when a Grand Slam was denied by Ireland in March.
The autumn series at Twickenham begins against Argentina on Saturday and Hartley accepts that having risen from the ruins of their failed 2015 World Cup, England can no longer claim to be a work in progress in their pursuit of glory at Japan 2019.
“Naturally just being England we’ve always had a target on us,” Hartley said.
“But now we’re not the surprise any more. We expect to give people a good, hard game and I think that now people know that. Maybe we are targeted and must be better now.
“We’ve had two great years as an evolving team, as a bit of an unknown team. But two years out from a World Cup we’ve got to be better.
“People are obviously aware now that we’re an improved team and we need to kick on and improve.”
England are chasing a ninth successive victory over Argentina knowing that it will be the final time they collide before meeting in a heavyweight Pool C showdown at the World Cup.
Second place has been cemented in the global rankings, but Hartley insists they will not be content until they rise to the pinnacle of the sport.
“When we prepare for a game it’s all about that game, but at the right time we speak about the bigger picture, which is about being the best team in the world and winning a World Cup,” Hartley said.
“Our belief’s been growing, but now it’s there 100 per cent that we can be better, that we can get to number one and we win a World Cup.
“If you don’t have these kind of goals, these dreams, and you don’t talk about them, then you’ve got no chance of achieving them. You’ve got to talk about it.”
England completed a 2-0 series victory over Argentina in June, but Hartley is determined to show they have improved since — a task that will be made possible if Pumas talisman and hooker Agustin Creevy is brought to heel.
“We want to be a better performance in a team that’s evolved since the summer,” Hartley said.
“Results were good in the summer but there were things in the game that weren’t quite good enough. Set-piece for one. And we were on the wrong side of too many penalties. “Obviously you’re playing Argentina, so what makes them tick? Set-piece. And who’s in the middle of that — Agustin Creevy.
“Creevy is the captain and he makes them tick. I want us to evolve as a team and pull away. I want us to be so much better than we were in the summer.”