Dan Cole has warned Italy that England's underperforming scrum is building towards a big performance in Sunday's RBS 6 Nations showdown at Twickenham.
Unusually for a nation with such a strong set-piece tradition, England are on the Grand Slam trail in spite of their scrum and lineout. England lost the scrummaging battles against both Ireland and France, while the red rose lineout has not been a well-oiled machine so far in the RBS 6 Nations championship.
Italy's power lies up front and Cole knows England must improve if they are to douse the Azzurri fires and said: "We haven't played a complete game as a forward pack, especially in the scrums."
He went on: "Against the French the back five probably pushed the best they've done so far but we had issues in the front-row. Against Ireland the front-row were fairly settled but the back five weren't.
"We need to be more mentally alert. At some point, and hopefully this weekend, I think there is going to be an 80-minute set-piece with everyone doing what needs to be done. Potentially we're very good but potential means nothing if we're not doing things as well as we can.
"Italy pride themselves on their set-piece and they'll come to Twickenham wanting to hurt us there. We've got to be ready for that and better than them."
Cole was surprised to see Italy's pack dominated by Wales in Rome two weekends ago and he expects an Azzurri backlash, led by his Leicester club-mate Martin Castrogiovanni.
"Italy will look at that game, as we will at our French game, and try and make improvements," Cole said. "Their focus will be on their scrum. They'll see our struggles against France and try and target us there."
Cole has come in for some criticism for his performances against the Irish loosehead Cian Healey and the French prop Thomas Domingo, who he rates as his toughest opponent. For all the plaudits he has received for his work at the breakdown, Cole understands his bread and butter is scrummaging and he is determined to get that right.
"The scrum is what you look after and if I'm going backwards in the scrum it doesn't matter - whatever I'm doing round the field, I won't be in the team," he said. "You've got to get that right but you can't do it yourself. It's that ability to get everyone focused on one job and operating at 100%."