Lancaster's men take on the might of the Springboks in a three-Test series starting at Durban's Kings Park on Saturday.
The former Leeds boss has restored optimism in the England camp after taking over following last autumn's disappointing World Cup and now wants to build on a promising RBS 6 Nations campaign.
Statistics are against him with England having lost their last seven Tests against the Springboks and having not won in the country since 2000.
But Lancaster said: "If we are serious about becoming one of the best sides in the world, which is ultimately what we are, we need to benchmark ourselves against the best and play against the best.
"This is what we are doing. We go into the game very respectful of the challenge but, equally, we should have quiet confidence about our ability as well."
The series will be a strong test of Lancaster's credentials after his impressive showing in the Six Nations.
He said: "You get the sense there is a big game and you can feel the weight of expectation and pressure.
"As a coach, all I want to do is give the team the best chance of winning, make the right calls selection-wise, give them the right information and select the right team.
"From my point of view, there is the sense a big game is around the corner and a big test. It is a bit like the calm before the storm at the moment."
Lancaster has revamped the side since February and hopes people can see the steady progress he is making with the long-term goal of success at the 2015 World Cup.
He said: "I would hope the English public would want us to play the same way we did in the Six Nations. Certainly we made great strides at that point.
"I'm hoping the English public are sat there at home thinking, 'I am looking forward to seeing this side play, I am excited about it, I can see the progression in terms of selection, where we are going, I can see where we want to end up in three years' time'.
"Track record suggests this is one of the toughest challenges to take on, and I hope that they would be looking forward to watching this game on Saturday."
Lancaster has made four changes from the side which started the final Six Nations game against Ireland.
Northampton's Ben Foden has moved from full-back to replace the injured David Strettle on the left wing with Harlequins' Mike Brown coming in at number 15.
Quins prop Joe Marler and Exeter flanker Tom Johnson will win their first caps while Leicester's Ben Youngs has been preferred to Lee Dickson at scrum-half and will partner Owen Farrell.
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