Johnson throws down the gauntlet
November 3, 2010
England manager Martin Johnson casts an eye over training ahead of his side's clash with New Zealand at Twickenham © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson has challenged his young guns to rise to the occasion against the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday.
Five of England's starting line-up have never played a Test at Twickenham - scrum-half Ben Youngs, lock Courtney Lawes, centre Shontayne Hape, fullback Ben Foden and winger Chris Ashton - and only captain Lewis Moody and winger Mark Cueto remain from the side that started last November's 19-6 defeat to New Zealand.
Since that victory - their 8th success in a row against England - the All Blacks have powered to the Tri-Nations title on the back of a fast-paced brand of rugby but Johnson has urged his side not to be overawed by the All Blacks who suffered a rare defeat at the hands of Australia in Hong Kong last weekend.
"There probably is an aura there but when you get into the analysis, they're a rugby team," said Johnson after announcing his side for the clash. "Of course when you face the haka and see the black shirt there is a buzz - but you can't be inhibited by that. You've got to respect it but not be too respectful. We can't be headless because they'll pick us off. The defeat to Australia in Hong Kong won't damage the All Blacks' self-belief. You don't lose that sort of thing overnight."
Johnson, who led England in their last win against New Zealand in Wellington in 2003, said that we was confident his youngsters would deliver. "It's how they handle it. They're excited to go and play, we need to go and take our shot. You don't get too many so let's have a real go at it," he added.
"More and more Tests are decided by small margins, that's why it's crucial to be ruthless in our finishing. When we create an opening, we must punish them. You can bank on them punishing any mistakes that we make."
Statistics released by the International Rugby Board this week showed the number of tries scored in the 2010 Tri-Nations increased by 100%, with an average of 5.8 per match. Even in defeat to the Wallabies last weekend they scored three tries and 24 points.
But England's defence coach Mike Ford dismissed many of the Tri-Nations games as not being real Test rugby - and he warned the All Blacks to be prepared for an "old-fashioned" showdown at Twickenham.
England are not interested in "exciting" rugby, with Ford drilling his players to stifle the All Blacks' creative threat at source. "There were three games in the Tri-Nations that produced an average of 77 points and that for me isn't Test rugby," said Ford. "Even Saturday, which was a fantastic game, there were still 50 points scored.
"Everyone is talking about how many tries are going to be scored, how quick the rucks are and how exciting it is - but our job defensively is to work out a way to stop that. We're pretty confident that we can do that. Our mentality has changed defensively. We have a 'no excuse' mentality. It's never a case of us saying: 'They've just scored one so we'll go back and score one at the other end'.
"We want to make this a good, old-fashioned Test rugby game. When the players keep hearing about how exciting it is, deep down they will be putting the shutters up. They know that on Saturday, when we haven't got the ball we are going to endeavour to produce one of the best defensive performances ever."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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