Johnson warns England about Dublin challenge
March 15, 2011
Martin Johnson led England to a Six Nations Grand Slam and World Cup glory as captain in 2003 © Getty Images
Martin Johnson refuses to tell his England squad not to dream about a Grand Slam but he has warned them the toughest away trip in Europe is what stands in their way.
England visit the gleaming new Aviva Stadium hoping to beat Ireland in Dublin for the first time since 2003 - the last time they won the Six Nations and completed a Grand Slam..
Johnson rates the new Lansdowne Road as the toughest northern hemisphere venue to conquer and he warned England it will take the performance of the championship if they are to seal the Slam.
"We haven't banned anything and that includes talking about a Grand Slam or diving over the try line. As a squad, we have never said 'don't mention the Grand Slam'," Johnson said. "There is no point in doing that. If you get things wrong - as we could have done against Scotland - then dreaming about different goals is pointless.
"We all know what is at stake now and what we want to do. We will be talking about how to beat Ireland. We go away to probably the toughest place to play right now in Europe. They are a very proud team, what they have done in the last seven, eight, nine years.
"They will be smarting after that defeat in Wales. I thought France played pretty well when they beat them over there. For me that is the performance of the championship so far."
England should claim the title in Dublin even with a defeat because they enter the final round of matches with a points difference 40 better than Wales. Not that that is of any interest to Johnson.
"All we are doing is trying to win games. If the consequences of that success are that we win the title, then great," he said.
There is no question England will need to improve on the scrappy, error-strewn performance in Sunday's 22-16 victory over Scotland. Johnson is convinced the warning signs that emerged from that game, particularly the way Scotland made such a mess of the breakdown battle, will only help England's preparations.
"Everyone knows it could have been better against Scotland. We fought through and won but it focuses everybody's minds," Johnson said. "Ireland are the hardest team over the ball in the championship. It was not a bad game for us going into next week."
James Haskell put it another way: "We can expect a kick up the backside and we all have to step up our level to ensure we get things right."
Johnson was on Monday night still waiting for official confirmation on whether captain Mike Tindall, one of three survivors from that 2003 triumph, will be fit for the trip to Dublin. Tindall injured his ankle in the first half against Scotland and has been undergoing scans and x-rays.
If Tindall is out, Nick Easter would take over as captain with Matt Banahan the likely outside centre replacement. Jonny Wilkinson and Steve Thompson both played in Dublin in 2003 while Lewis Moody and Simon Shaw both featured in the successful campaign.
Those veterans of 2003 also experienced Grand Slam disappointments and will have an important role to play this week in ensuring the build-up is well paced.
"Their experience will be important and we'll give them a chance to express that to the players," Johnson said. "When you are in big games the healthiest attitude to have is 'if we win by a point we get what we want'."
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