New dawns, auld enemies
The wintry weather at England's training base, tucked away in the forests of rural Surrey, appeared on Thursday to be perfectly in sync with the ambitions of interim coach Stuart Lancaster - first a bright new sunny dawn, then a fierce wind to blow away the dead wood.
Inside the plush Pennyhill Park staterooms, Lancaster had just announced a line-up to face Scotland that featured eight new caps in the match-day 22, led by a skipper with a solitary cap from a summer tour.
There was excitement about the place. There were a few raised eyebrows from the wiser old owls listening in - Murrayfield on a bleak February evening being no place for dilettantes, that sort of thing - and, already, the sound of clanging nerves.
Cole was one of the few to come back from New Zealand with reputation untarnished. Photo: Getty
"They start so early in the week," admits Dan Cole, with 23 caps a comparative grizzled veteran in this squad of fresh faces.
"You get the butterflies, and then you try to get rid of them in training, by going hard. But as the week goes by they build. By the time you get to Wednesday or Thursday, you want to get away from here.
"You want to think about the game, but you can't play it at 7am when you wake up. If you play it in your head the adrenaline will come too early, and by kick-off you'll have dropped right down again."
Lancaster, given the coach's role for just five games but keen to take it on permanently, has a tightrope of his own to walk. "It's about a team for now, and a team for the future - we're trying to achieve both," he told us.
The success or otherwise over the next seven weeks of this balance between pragmatism and planning will probably decide Lancaster's England future. It is also something that leaves his players in a strangely precarious position.
"If we lose, you can't say, oh well, we're developing for the next World Cup," says Cole, with feeling.
"It can't ever become acceptable to lose. Yes, there's - not even one eye, maybe a quarter of an eye - on the World Cup, but we're playing for our places in the team next week.
"The World Cup is for the management and coaches to sort out. We might show signs of development, but you might not be in the team next week.
"You can't look at four years' time when you're a player. Last season we won four games and then had a chance of a Grand Slam against Ireland. People might have thought, it won't matter, I'll have another opportunity, but it might be the only shot you get at a Grand Slam.
"Same at the World Cup - 15 minutes of rugby, concede two tries, and you're out. We might be a better team for it, but so what? You go to somewhere like Scotland, fight hard, get a result - that moves you on. That allows you to improve."
Ah, the World Cup. With each day that passes, England's performance appears to get worse. How does Cole, one of the few players to come through New Zealand with reputation untarnished, feel about that scandal-hit four weeks now?
"When you go out in the quarter-finals, the first thought is, 'What a waste'," he says. "You've done 10 weeks pre-season, all that work in New Zealand, and everything you've worked for those two years is over. It's gone from you, just like that."
He clicks his finger. "Afterwards everyone seemed to be venting their frustration. The new faces here are helping us move on, but there is stuff we have to turn round off the field as well, losing certain perceptions of us."
"Yeah. The perception that we're arrogant. If you spent time with the team, you wouldn't think we were arrogant. I think we're quite a friendly bunch. We've got to change those perceptions, show people we're not the idiots we're made out to be."
That process involves more than just the hard, cold yards put in on Pennyhill Park's bespoke pitch. On the less heralded turf of West Park, just outside Leeds, where the team were based for the previous fortnight, as well as in the team meetings that followed, Lancaster's new approach has been impossible to miss.
"There's an edginess around the squad, in a good way," says Cole.
"Everyone's turning up early for meetings, because no-one wants to be the one person who's late. Things before were maybe a bit lackadaisical, thinking, oh, that's all right. Now there's no compromise - people turn up and want to train hard, because you don't want to be the one who lets the squad down.
"You see Robbo (Chris Robshaw) keen as mustard, and when you see your captain do that, you're not going to let him down."
Without his squad's knowledge, Lancaster sent letters to influential people in each of his players' lives - parents, early coaches, PE teachers - asking them what it meant to see their lad playing for England, what they wanted to see from the team, what they wanted that player to realise. He then collated the responses and presented each player with a framed letter.
"It was good to see what we really represent - it's not just about yourself, or the 22 guys," says Cole.
"What you're representing is your family and friends, and all those people who helped you when you were 12-years-old, the coaches who supported you. That's what rugby is about, it's who you are. It's not, 'I'm England, sod you all'. You're not alienated from that support - you might not see it every day, but it is there.
The tight-head prop, now shorn of the ZZ Top facial growth he was sporting last autumn ("It was a World Cup beard. I enjoyed cultivating it in my spare time, but if you're not at a World Cup, you can't have a World Cup beard...") is enjoying the different emphasis in training.
"With Stu and Faz [Andy Farrell] the coaching staff is a lot smaller. So it's tighter, it's more directed.
"Before, our sessions were quite spread out, but Stu keeps them fairly up tempo. There is a point to everything we do - I'm not saying in the past there wasn't, but now we go from theme to theme. The rugby we play isn't as structured - it's more open and free-flowing.
"We can take our time to get things right if they're not working, but there's an 'up' feeling to the sessions, and you have to stay on your toes, and that's good. It's a quick game, and you need to think on the hoof - so that's what we're doing.
"Stu does seem to enjoy the job. He does bring a positive attitude, from the way he talks and everything else. He's a good guy to work with."
England haven't won at Murrayfield since 2004. As baptisms for new boys go, it's likely to be both icy cold and red hot. Cole feels ready for the battles ahead.
"Every time I've played the Scottish it's been a tight game - we only just beat them at the World Cup, drew with them in my first game, tight last year.
"We're going there to win. And whether that's by one point or 15, we'll take it."