England set top two goal
January 23, 2011
England manager Martin Johnson has been tasked with delivering a top two finish in the Six Nations © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson has been set the goal of delivering a top two finish in the Six Nations.
England, currently ranked fourth in the world after an encouraging November series, have not won the title since Clive Woodward led them to a Grand Slam in 2003 - months before they clinched the Rugby World Cup in Australia.
After finishing as runners-up in 2008 and 2009, England managed just two victories last season and slipped to third place behind France and Ireland. Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive John Steele has told Johnson that a minimum of second place is the goal at the start of a World Cup year.
"Given we have three matches at home and have some momentum from the autumn, we believe finishing in the top two of the championship is a realistic expectation," he told BBC Sportsweek. "Coming third or below would be disappointing given our current position.
"Alongside that, we are also looking to see the development of our young players continue and our playing style evolve further as we build to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand later this year, where we are fully expecting to be in the mix after the group stages.
"We will ensure that Martin and his coaches get everything they need to ensure they are given the best possible chance to deliver against our ambitions."
Since last year's tournament, England have beaten Australia twice - including a record 35-18 victory at Twickenham - and Samoa. They were beaten in the autumn by New Zealand and South Africa. Johnson's side open their campaign against Wales in Cardiff on February 4 and end it against Ireland in Dublin, with Italy, France and Scotland all making the trip to Twickenham.
"This year's tournament is tighter than it has been for a number of years. Almost all sides are in with a chance of winning certainly one game and possibly the title," Steele said. "So while we are the bookies favourite and highest ranked European side in the world, that does not count for much in the Six Nations, where only three times in the last eight years has the highest ranked side won the title.
"The Six Nations is unique in world rugby due to its heritage and traditional rivalries and we cherish that competitiveness and history. We know that Martin and the team will be striving to win every game but it is important to outline what we think is realistic."
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