Jamie George is convinced England can win the Guinness Six Nations but accepts they must learn fast after edging Italy 27-24 in Rome.
England were outscored 3-2 on the try count and were outplayed in the first half, which they finished 17-14 behind, but they rallied with an important Alex Mitchell try and two penalties from George Ford.
It was the closest Italy had come to beating them in 31 Tests between the rivals and even allowing for the five new caps in Red Rose ranks, it was a shaky start to post-World Cup rebuilding.
While England were labouring to victory at the Stadio Olimpico, Ireland looked sensational in a crushing win over France in Marseille the previous evening.
When asked is there is enough quality in the team to challenge Ireland, George said: “Absolutely. I don’t want anyone to be involved in this squad if they don’t genuinely believe we can go and challenge the best and win this tournament.
“Looking at Ireland, they were very impressive. Not many teams go to France and perform like that. It’s a blueprint for us, and any team, to look at how they approached that game.
“For us, we’re going to be learning fast and we need to make sure we learn our lessons, being very clear about what we want to go after this game.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to be back in front of our fans against Wales next weekend and really give them something to smile about.”
England have a new defence coach in Felix Jones and at times they were exposed by an inspired Italy, who took advantage of the lack of familiarity with the new system to engineer three tries.
“I’m very pleased the players found a way to change and win the game,” head coach Steve Borthwick said.
“There were areas we improved upon and it was brilliant to see five players making their debuts in the Six Nations, which doesn’t happen very often.
“But having said that there were plenty of areas we need to be better. Italy scored too easily and we need to look very closely at things that need to be improved around our defence.
Italy head coach Gonzalo Quesada took little comfort from knowing that it was the closest the Azzurri had come to beating England in 31 attempts.
“When I spoke to the players and coaches in the changing room, no one was happy with this narrow defeat,” Quesada said.
“That’s something that’s very important for me because I didn’t care to look at the closest gap in history.
“I’m proud of the spirit showed by the team. England were close to our tryline many times but we kept them out, which is the team we want to be.”