Johnson keeps losses in perspective
November 30, 2008
Martin Johnson is determined to ensure the "heartache" of England's hat-trick of comprehensive autumn Test defeats to Australia, South Africa and New Zealand will not have been in vain.
But the straight-talking red rose manager has been left under no illusions just how far England trail the world's best after yet another acutely frustrating performance.
England competed better than at any point in the autumn. They rocked New Zealand with their physicality, secured quick ball at the breakdown and Nick Kennedy performed impressively in the lineout. Shortly before the hour mark England were in touch at 12-6.
But ultimately England were undone yet again by a gross lack of discipline. Four players - Lee Mears, James Haskell, Toby Flood and Tom Rees - were sin-binned leaving them short-handed for 33 minutes, while Danny Care could easily have been a fifth as England infuriated referee Alain Rolland.
England again failed to score a try and had Daniel Carter not uncharacteristically missed five shots at goal the match would have been over as a contest far earlier.
The same failings cost England throughout the series, which they lost to the Tri-Nations powers by an aggregate of 102-26, scoring just one try and conceding nine.
A fortnight ago Australia also profited from England's indiscipline to win 28-14 and last weekend the Springboks secured a record 42-6 triumph at Twickenham.
But the chastening experience has only strengthened Johnson's resolve to pull things around and he vowed to do it with the same coaching team.
"I knew what a big job it would be. To take on the best in the world in this sport is difficult," said Johnson. "It has been a tough five weeks. We probably won't have as tough a run of games as that again and when you add in the results it made it very difficult.
"But it has also been good, we have no illusions where we are and the players will be better for the series.
"The more you do it, and when you see the guys take the All Blacks on, the more you think it is worth the heartache and the pain to get there.
"If you can get there and win games then it is worth it. This is our first series together and we know we can improve."
There are key areas Johnson must fix if England are to challenge the blistering Welsh and unpredictable French in the RBS 6 Nations.
Johnson believes England are not fit enough to compete with the elite, they do not ask enough questions in attack and, crucially, they are still not smart enough after failing again to adapt to the demands of referee Rolland.
England captain Steve Borthwick was told after just 37 minutes his team had reached the "point of no return". Two players had already gone to the sin-bin. Two more were to follow.
"It has been the same for the last three weeks. We are not as good as these teams in terms of composure. If you are not listening to the referee you are going to upset him. We paid the price," said Johnson.
"Some guys have a lot to learn as a team - mainly that you make mistakes at this level and you get killed. We gave ourselves a chance but we were just not good enough to take it.
"At times, we made New Zealand look average but then it tells in the last 20 minutes. If you thought you were fit enough to compete in the Premiership or Europe, Test rugby is at a much greater level.
"Some of our guys have had a real good autumn. It is just frustrating collectively we didn't get a win out of it."
Of those who stood out in adversity, full-back Delon Armitage made the step up to Test rugby in confident manner while Nick Easter responded to being dropped in the summer by producing a series of physical, dynamic performances.
Johnson will now spend the next month reviewing England's autumn campaign with his coaching staff before settling on a revised elite squad for the Six Nations.
"We can make five changes and it is important we get the selection right," said Johnson.
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
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September