Johnson relishing clash with Scots
December 1, 2008
England team manager Martin Johnson talks to the press at today's RWC'11 Pool Draw © Getty Images
England boss Martin Johnson refused to accept his team had escaped lightly after his side avoided the southern hemsiphere giants in the Rugby World Cup 2011 Pool draw.
They will be grouped with Argentina and Scotland in Pool B plus the leading European qualifier - possibly Georgia or Romania - and a play-off winner. At last year's tournament that was Portugal.
England beat Scotland 9-6 in their only previous World Cup encounter - the 1991 semi-final at Murrayfield that Johnson, then aged 21, watched in a bar having played for Leicester against Sale earlier in the day. Johnson played in England's only World Cup meeting with Argentina, when two drop goals and six penalties from Rob Andrew secured a hard-fought 24-18 victory in the pool stages of the 1995 tournament in South Africa.
"Playing Scotland in the World Cup will be a hell of a game, with huge passion," Johnson said. "We haven't played them in a World Cup since 1991. That was a tight game. Scotland were quarter-finalists last year, we finished second and Argentina finished third. There are a lot of tough groups.
"Argentina have been successful. They went to the World Cup in 2007 and came through the toughest pool of all and they could have got to the final."
Wales have been drawn in what is widely considered to be the toughest of all groups along with world champions South Africa, their 2007 conquerors Fiji and probable qualifiers Samoa. Ireland were grouped with Australia and Italy - but Johnson denied England had been dealt a lucky hand by avoiding the three southern hemisphere super-powers.
The Wallabies, Springboks and All Blacks put 102 points and nine tries past England in three autumn Tests as they won 28-14, 42-6 and 32-6 on consecutive weekends. England's potential quarter-final opponents come from Pool A and are likely to be either New Zealand or France.
And Johnson said: "If you want to get to the last week of the World Cup you need to be good enough to beat the best in the world. Whoever we got in the pool doesn't change anything in that regard. There are some pretty tough groups there. Scotland and Fiji were in the third band and they both reached the quarter-finals at the last World Cup. There will be some awesome games before the quarter-finals - England v Scotland, England v Argentina, New Zealand v France, Ireland v Australia, Wales v South Africa."
If the tournament was tomorrow, England supporters would fear their side's chances of even qualifying from a group containing Scotland and Argentina. Johnson would not pontificate on England's realistic chance of winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup, but he did concede significant strides need to be taken if they are to even head to New Zealand as potential challengers.
"The World Cup is so huge now in the world of rugby that everything builds up to it. If there wasn't a World Cup in three years would it change anything? No. We want to improve as a team," said Johnson. "It is nice to be here and think of three years time - but we have to get better as a team.
"We will meet this week as coaches with the emotion of it gone. We need to put our plans in place for the Six Nations and the squad. We have lots of planning to do. We are not picking a team to win in three years, we are picking a team to win now but of course we will have an eye on who will be there.
"But we need to make sure they are still there and playing at the highest level. When you look at teams that have won it, the last three have all been pretty experienced and the three England teams to have reached finals (in 1991, 2003 and 2007) have all been very experienced."
England will face Scotland and Argentina three times between now and the 2001 World Cup. The first clash with Scotland is at Twickenham on March 21 during the Six Nations, while England face the Pumas in Argentina twice during the summer and again in the autumn of 2009.
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