Warren Gatland draws comfort from England's recent success ahead of Lions tour
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland draws comfort from England's recent success as he begins plotting New Zealand's downfall next summer.
Gatland will lead the home unions' elite as they seek to defy the odds by upsetting the All Blacks on a tour that is being described as mission impossible due to its itinerary and scheduling.
The 52-year-old Kiwi will return to his homeland convinced he has the weapons to humble the world champions, among them the terrific form of England under Eddie Jones.
Since their chastening group exit from the World Cup last autumn, England have won a Grand Slam and condemned Australia to a 3-0 series whitewash in June, elevating them to second in the global rankings.
"The best thing at the moment about the Lions, and purely with my Lions hat on, is the improvement in England over the last 12 months," Gatland said.
"Given the strength in depth of English rugby, they should always be in the top two or three in the world.
"Every year or second year they should be winning or knocking on the door of winning the Six Nations.
"For the Celtic nations, they should be the benchmark and we should be chasing them, but that hasn't happened for the last seven, eight, 10 years.
"It's pleasing that their players are playing well and with confidence, that's going to be good for the Lions."
The success of England has been delivered with Dylan Hartley at the helm and the Northampton hooker is second favourite behind Sam Warburton to captain the Lions in New Zealand.
Hartley has placed his dismal disciplinary record behind him and Gatland, who picked him for Australia in 2013 only for a ban for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes to exclude him from the tour, has endorsed his credentials.
"Dylan has always played on the edge and that has been one of the traits that has made him such a competitor as a player," Gatland said.
"He's obviously matured and he's done a great job with England. Eddie rates him incredibly highly. He has a lot of respect from the players as well.
"The pleasing thing is his discipline. He hasn't been suspended for a while. That's a big tick against his name. Hopefully he continues in that vein and continues to be successful."