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Johnson focuses on the positives
ESPNscrum Staff
November 29, 2010
England manager Martin Johnson finds reason to smile ahead of his side's clash with the Wallabies, England v Australia, Twickenham, London, England, November 13, 2010
Johnson saw his side record two wins and two defeats during a testing autumn campaign © Getty Images
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Martin Johnson is confident England are heading the 'right direction' despite their mauling at the hands of South Africa at Twickenham.

The Springboks outmuscled England to claim a 21-11 victory on Saturday which left the hosts with a record of two wins, against Australia and Samoa, and two losses, against New Zealand and South Africa, during the autumn series. But despite mixed results Johnson insists his side are on course to make a serious challenge at next year's Rugby World Cup.

"We're far better for getting through a Test series. It's a learning experience emotionally, controlling the ups and downs and dealing with the intensity for some of the guys and they have done it very well really," said Johnson.

"We do expect more. We set our standards and we did not meet those clearly. But we are playing good teams. You make mistakes and errors and people get injured and you get penalised and you disagree and all these things, but you have to overcome them.

"The team's going in the right direction and we can be a pretty good team but consistency is the key. Everyone in the autumn series, with the exception of the All Blacks, has been a bit up and down. Good Test teams go out and are difficult to beat every week."

England were disrupted on Saturday by an early injury to wing Chris Ashton when he collided with Springbok captain Victor Matfield and the sight of fly-half Toby Flood and flanker Tom Croft leaving the field with head and shoulder injuries respectively. But Johnson pinpointed his side's errors as the reason for defeat against the Boks.

"We let them off the hook too easily," said Johnson. "But they are a good team. They defended strongly. They are strong in the set-piece. They have been around the block and their kicking game was good. A couple of key kicks pinned us back and we couldn't get out. They make the difference. I thought we were pretty good defensively. We just brought silly penalties into the game that gave them more field position and territory."

England's coaches will meet up early next week to assess the autumn matches and the squad will spend a week in Portugal towards the end of January in preparation for the Six Nations. While Johnson never gets too excited he cannot wait to see the next stage in the development of a team in which his best players, such as second row Courtney Lawes and scrum-half Ben Youngs, are also among the youngest.

"You always want to improve and move on and we have certainly done it," said Johnson. "As a group just having the time together and going through ups and downs is huge. I think we've got a team now definitely. Everyone wants to be in it. It's very competitive to get in it.

"The medics have done a great job keeping everyone fit and healthy and the coaches have done a great job as well. No-one's going to sit back and think we're anywhere near there. There is a long way to go and a long way we can go. Loads of great pluses. Everyone who has played has played well. For those guys in sub-10, sub-20 Test matches everything is new and absorbed."

So next stop the Six Nations and an opening Friday night encounter against Wales in Cardiff on February 4. "Scotland have beaten South Africa. We've beaten the Australians. Ireland and Wales have been there or thereabouts so the Six Nations should be a hell of a tournament," predicted Johnson.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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