Dylan Hartley insists England can secure top seeding for the 2015 Rugby World Cup - despite facing a brutal run of fixtures over the next six months.
England are currently on their first-ever three-Test tour of South Africa and they will then tackle the Springboks, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji in a challenging QBE autumn international series.
Stuart Lancaster’s men must defend their current ranking of fourth place if they are to guarantee avoiding the southern-hemisphere giants when the 2015 tournament draw is made on December 3.
Saints skipper Hartley believes that is realistic.
England made impressive strides under Lancaster during the RBS 6 Nations, finishing second with four victories out of five including memorable triumphs over France and Ireland.
The next stage in their development is taking major southern-hemisphere scalps.
“As a team we have a point to prove,” said Hartley.
“We have said ‘if we want to be the best, we have to beat the best’. We did it in Australia in 2010 and we have to do it in South Africa.
“We are going there to win these games. If we can get any result out there, it is a huge success for us for a young and growing team.
“The challenge of going out there to win is big enough and then it is about defending Twickenham.
“There are a lot of big games coming up and the seeding is the end goal. It is realistic.
“We can definitely win some of these big games.”
England were not top seeds at the 2011 World Cup but were fortunate to draw Argentina rather than the All Blacks, Wallabies or Springboks.
Hartley wants England to avoid them in the pool stages of their home World Cup.
“The prospect of facing them is not nice is it?,” he said.
England, who flew out to South Africa last week, play the first Test against the Springboks this Saturday in Durban.