Johnson looks for England improvement
February 7, 2009
England manager Martin Johnson will have seen little to get excited about at Twickenham © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson admitted his side still had much to improve after they began their Six Nations campaign with a 36-11 win over Italy but was glad to get back to winning ways.
England ran in five tries after fly-half Andy Goode had marked his return to the international stage with a score after just 95 seconds. Scrum-half Harry Ellis scored once in each half, Riki Flutey added England's third and Mark Cueto rounded off the afternoon with a well-worked try in the corner. But England's mistakes, particularly Goode's wayward tactical kicking, will be punished by better teams than Italy as the Championship goes on. England play defending champions Wales next weekend.
But after suffering a hat-trick of autumn Test defeats, Johnson was at least content to have opened his first Six Nations championship as England coach with a victory. "We won in the end. There is lots to improve on as a team but it is nice to be in a winning changing room," he said. "At this level if you give teams opportunities they will take them. The next place we go is Cardiff. It will be volatile and hostile and we need to improve.
"We were sometimes going off-plan and doing things we especially said not to do against this team. We didn't want guys picking and going around the edges against Italy because it is an area they defend best. When you are trying to execute it just takes one thing to throw it off. Mark's try was a good example of execution. If you do lots of little things well you can score a try. There are things we need to put right and it is easier doing that when you have come off a game, things are far more relevant."
Goode made an excellent start and gave England the kind of reliable direction which had been missing but his kicking was cause for concern. He missed two penalties, a conversion and a simple drop-goal while he often kicked straight down the throat of Italy's back three. Next week, Shane Williams or Lee Byrne will be waiting to pounce.
"He made a good start. I thought he did pretty well. You can point to lots of areas where things didn't go right but he gave us direction and maturity. Overall I think he did well," said Johnson.
Italy coach Nick Mallett accepted responsibility for switching flanker Mauro Bergamasco to cover an injury crisis at scrum-half, an experiment which back-fired horribly. Bergamasco was directly responsible for Flutey's try and he was replaced at the interval. "I said before the game the responsibility was mine," said Mallett. "I thought of replacing him after 25 minutes but out of respect I left him on the field. No-one likes to concede tries but I would like to say that Mauro has the support of all the team."
Mallett decided to replace Bergamasco altogether rather than move him back to flanker. "After the first half Mauro was disappointed and I thought it was better for the team to keep the two flankers out there," he explained.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
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