Johnson sounds rallying call
March 17, 2011
England manager Martin Johnson talks to the media ahead of his side's Six Nations showdown with Ireland © Getty Images
England boss Martin Johnson has thrown down the gauntlet to his side ahead of their Six Nations showdown with Ireland and urged them to go out and secure the "big win" that will bring them the Grand Slam.
Johnson was captain the last time England completed a Championship clean sweep in 2003, a triumph sealed coincidentally with a 42-6 win at the old Lansdowne Road. Now England's manager, Johnson has a chance to become only the sixth man to win a Grand Slam as a player and a coach.
"The guys have had nine games this season and every one seems to have been bigger than the last," Johnson said. "That's great. We want to go out with a big finale and a big win. "We know what's at stake and that's great. We've worked hard to get there and we think we deserve to be here.
"We all know it's an opportunity to win a Grand Slam but if we start badly for the first 10 minutes that will feel a long way away. Contrary to popular belief we never banned anything in this squad, certainly not talking about Grand Slams. We couldn't win the Grand Slam in any other game, but we can in this one."
Johnson warned England will need to be on their guard. Ireland have underperformed so far in the championship and they will be angry following last weekend's controversial defeat to Wales. Referee Jonathan Kaplan awarded a try for Mike Phillips that should never have stood because Wales took a quick lineout with the wrong ball.
Afterwards, Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll was furious and Johnson expects them to feed off that injustice. "I think you'd be feeling that anger as a team. When teams are like that it makes them fairly dangerous."
Johnson also admitted that the occasion has stirred the passions that drove him as a player. "You want to play don't you?" he said. "When it's a question of playing a game for a Grand Slam the best place to be is on the field, I'll guarantee you that. We're doing what we're doing and enjoying the rewards for the hard work we're putting in."
Matt Banahan will deputise for the injured Mike Tindall at outside centre in what will be just his second start in the No.13 shirt but the 24-year-old is not fazed by the prospect of going head-to-head with O'Driscoll - the greatest outside centre of modern times.
"This is a big game, it is something to look forward to and an opportunity to take with both hands," said Banahan, whose first five caps came on the wing before England and Bath both targeted a future for him in the centres. "I have done as much as I can to learn the position. These big games are where you find out about yourself, where you find out if you can cut it.
"O'Driscoll is a fantastic player, one of the world's best centres. He is brilliant in attack, he's brilliant in defence and he's got great rugby knowledge. All I can do is my best, do my basics as well as I can and hopefully I can get one up on him."
And how would Banahan propose to do that? "I weigh more than him," laughed the 17-stone former loose forward. "What I have done off the bench in these Six Nations games I want to do from the start and set a platform for the team."
Had things turned out differently, Banahan could have been playing for Ireland against England this weekend. As a Channel islander he can represent any of the home nations and Ireland had been in touch shortly before he was selected by the England Sevens team in 2007.
"My Dad's great-grandparents are from Cork and coming from Jersey I could have played for any home nation. It was only ever going to be Ireland or England," Banahan said. "I was close to playing for Ireland. I had an email and then I went away on England Sevens and I got classed as capped."
Banahan's power out on the wing led to early comparisons with Jonah Lomu but it is not something he encourages. "I don't like branding myself like somebody else. Then you get caught up in being someone else. I want to make my own statement on the park and let me evolve into the player I want to be," he said. "I don't style myself on anybody."
Nick Easter takes over the captaincy from Tindall having led England twice against the Barbarians but only once in a Test match, the same Samoa game last autumn in which Banahan started at outside centre.
"It's a blow to have Mike out but I'm confident the guys can go and perform," Johnson said. "We have some excellent captains. The good thing with [regular captain] Lewis [Moody] and Mike is that people have stepped up around the whole team now with leadership roles."
Both Tindall and Moody, who would have captained England into the championship had he not injured his knee, will both be in Dublin this weekend. Tindall will then have a further specialist assessment on his left ankle next week.
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