Johnson arrival heralds fresh start
July 1, 2008
England Team Manager Martin Johnson believes today marks the start of an exciting new era for English rugby.
Johnson's first official duty was to select the new 32-man England and Saxons Elite Player Squads that, from today, form part of the new eight year agreement between club and country.
Riki Flutey, London Wasps' New Zealand-born centre, is included in an England squad for the first time whilst Leicester Tigers' Number 8 Jordan Crane wins promotion after his player of the tournament display for England Saxons in winning the Barclays Churchill Cup.
"These are exciting times for England," said Johnson. "I've spoken to all the Guinness Premiership Directors of Rugby and they are all excited too.
"The mood is one of optimism, we need a strong premiership to develop these players and we need for the England team to be playing well for that feel good factor to return."
"We've known about Riki's eligibility for the last six months or so, so he's always been in the picture. He had a fantastic year last season and he deserves to be included on merit."
"There's a lot of talent in English rugby at the moment," added Elite Rugby Director, Rob Andrew. "Some just need time to grow in at senior level. The England Saxons are unbeaten in over two years and the U20s reached the final of the Junior World Cup. I believe this England squad is one that can achieve on a world level.
And while Johnson has recalled Josh Lewsey and James Simpson-Daniel, there is no place in the senior squad for fellow Rugby World Cup 2003 winners Ben Kay, Mike Tindall or Joe Worsley. They have all been named in the Saxons squad, along with Nick Easter, Michael Lipman, David Paice, Topsy Ojo, David Strettle and Richard Wigglesworth, who all played in England's recent tour of New Zealand.
"Leaving out the likes of Nick Easter, Ben Kay and Mike Tindall was a very tough call," said Johnson. "But we have to pick a team for today. We know what we want to do on the field and we've picked players that we think can deliver. But we also need guys who can be part of the match day 22. We have to select the bench from the squad, players that can make an impact, so that's been a consideration too."
The introduction of the IRB's new Experimental Law Variations, 13 of which will be in force by the time England face the Pacific Islands in the first of November's four Investec Challenge matches, is also a factor that Johnson has had to consider.
"Some of the changes, especially those to the lineout, will change the type of player you have to put on the field," added Johnson.
"There were probably about 40 players in contention for the senior squad so with only 32 places the remainder have to drop into the Saxons."
After watching England twice at the hands of the All Blacks last month, Johnson is aware that he has some ground to make up if England are to be in with a chance of victory in November, when England will face three of the four teams ranked above them (Australia, South Africa and New Zealand).
"Ultimately I'm responsible for how England perform on the pitch. My goal is to win games of rugby. You're judged by results on the field, it's as simple as that," said Johnson.
"It was disappointing to see an England team getting well beaten but at the same time, some players stood up and competed pretty well at the top level. We found out something about everyone and that's been reflected in our selection.
"All the players on that tour now know what it is like to play international rugby at the toughest level, it's not going to get any more difficult that the second Test in New Zealand."
Johnson also hopes to have his coaching structure in place shortly. "I hope we will be able to announce the name of the England attack coach as soon as possible to add to and complete the existing England senior coaching team."
Then his first priority will become consistency. "Moving forward, we need to bring some continuity to what we're doing as a side on the field. We need to decide who our players are who can handle the pressure and back them and be very clear on how we're going to play.
"It all comes down to performance, performances create wins. If we can get that right against the likes of Australia and South Africa, and if are clear on players' roles and we get our team spirit working then we're in with a chance."
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