Johnson in bullish mood
January 14, 2010
Could Sale Sharks centre Matthew Tait be set to end his nomadic years © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson is confident his side can claim this year's Six Nations Championship crown.
Johnson announced a new-look squad yesterday including rugby league converts Shontayne Hape and Chris Ashton as well as dynamic Northampton duo Ben Foden and Courtney Lawes while the return to fitness of Delon Armitage, Riki Flutey and Toby Flood also provided a timely boost. As a result, Johnson believes his side can reclaim the northern hemisphere crown for the first time since their Rugby World Cup winning year of 2003.
"We finally have the core guys back in and there's some depth building," commented Johnson. "Every series has felt like starting again in recent years and hopefully we can develop the consistency we got towards the end of last year's Six Nations. I think we've got a good enough group of players to go into any Six Nations game thinking about winning. There's no reason we shouldn't be doing that."
England scored just one try in three Test matches during November and were widely criticised for their lack of a creative spark. Johnson admitted that the coaching had been "over-prescriptive" in the autumn, the game-plan too conservative and his squad selection has set about rectifying the problem.
Ashton, the Northampton winger, is the leading try-scorer in the country with nine from 10 games in the Guinness Premiership while Foden has been a key creative force for the Saints. Lawes, a versatile and athletic forward, enjoyed a 10-minute taste of international rugby off the bench against the Wallabies and has continued his rapid ascent during the last two months. Hape, the Bath centre who won 14 New Zealand rugby league caps, was selected just days after qualifying to play for England on residency grounds.
England finished second in last year's Six Nations and scored the most tries in the competition, helped by a five-try demolition job on France at Twickenham. But Johnson's plans for the autumn were then wrecked by an unprecedented injury crisis. With such upheaval in the camp, England retreated into their shells and Johnson indicated firmly that mindset will change, not only through his selections but also by admitting some of the coaching mistakes that had been made.
"I think it was something we all recognised," said Johnson. "We met with the players last week and had a frank discussion about [the coaching] and the good thing is we recognise it and we can improve it."
Johnson believes the inclusion of Flutey or Hape at inside centre will open the door for Mathew Tait to end his nomadic years and finally nail down the outside centre berth.
"I have felt a bit for Tait. It can be a little convenient sometimes to stick him on the bench because he is utility," Johnson admitted. "He fitted nicely on the bench in the 2009 Six Nations and he was on the bench in Argentina and once during the autumn. It is probably a time for him to challenge for that 13 spot."
England head to Portugal for a warm-weather training camp in the week beginning January 25 before tackling Wales in their Six Nations opener at Twickenham on February 6.
Concussion, relegation and the mother of all surprises - it's the Monday Maul.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies