Wales star Sam Warburton believes it is “a fair judgement” to compare England with world champions New Zealand at the moment.
The Six Nations title holders will arrive in Cardiff on Saturday chasing a 16th successive win against all opponents.
Victory at the Principality Stadium would also edge them closer to Six Nations silverware and a possible Grand Slam for the second season in a row under head coach Eddie Jones.
England face the prospect of fielding a rookie back row against a feared all-Lions Wales trio after Tom Wood became a doubt for Saturday’s trip to Cardiff.
Captain Alun Wyn Jones said Wales had their “foot in the door” after getting their Six Nations campaign off to a winning start.
Wales, though, are undoubted ambush material, as spectacularly illustrated four years ago when Warburton and company not only wrecked England’s Grand Slam dream in the 2013 tournament’s final game, they claimed a record win in the fixture and won the title themselves.
Former Wales captain Warburton is set to line up against England for the 10th time in his career this weekend, and he said: “It is always a massive Test.
“It is one of the toughest games you will play in, regardless of what side they bring, as they proved two years ago.
“They had quite a few injuries that day, but they still beat us, so we know we have got to be extremely good to beat England.
“England are deservedly tagged as the best team in the northern hemisphere. It’s a fair judgement to compare them to the All Blacks right now — that’s how good they are.
“It is going to take a huge game out of us to get a win, and it will be one of the biggest games of the championship for sure.”
With both countries having won their opening Six Nations games last weekend, it served to only increase a sense of anticipation and expectation for the 130th meeting between traditionally fierce rivals.
“You can sense it, and we know as players during the build-up to Wales-England games that it is one the fans look forward to the most,” flanker Warburton added. “I am not going to hide from that fact.
“But, as players, when you train extremely hard and make all the sacrifices, those are the type of fixtures you want to be involved in. You just love being in the cauldron of the Principality Stadium against a team like England.
“If you are Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France or Italy in the Six Nations, the biggest game is [against] England.
“When you chat to players from those countries, that is how they feel. They really prioritise that match because everyone just wants to beat England.
Sam Warburton will be facing England for the 10th time. David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images
“I guess that is just due to the success they have had in the past, and what they are going through now. It is always a big scalp if you can beat England, because they are a great team.
“It [Saturday] is similar to 2013 when they were coming for the Grand Slam, but I always cherish any win against any opposition in the Six Nations.
“I’ve realised in the past three years actually how difficult it is to win a championship. In 2011 [Rugby World Cup], 2012 and 2013 when we were pretty successful, I think we took that for granted a bit.
“The past few years have shown how difficult it is to win, so I really make sure I enjoy any victory we get in the Six Nations and use it as motivation to go and get the next one.
“Our record against England in the Six Nations isn’t actually that great. I think we have lost the last three Six Nations games.
“They have been one of our toughest opponents, as results show over the past few years, and we know we are in for another hard game on Saturday.”
Wales could have No. 8 Taulupe Faletau back in the selection mix — he has not played since Christmas Eve due to a knee injury — which would make interim head coach Rob Howley’s back row selection task a fascinating one.
“The back-row competition is so fierce at the moment,” Warburton said.
“Toby [Faletau] is, in my opinion — and I don’t want to put pressure on him — when he is playing well is one of the best players in the world.
“I have always said it. He is unbelievable, a fantastic player.
“If he did come back fit, I am sure there would be a few selection headaches in the back row.”
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England rightly compared with All Blacks – Warburton
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