Johnson acknowledges shortcomings
November 22, 2008
England Team Manager Martin Johnson looks on during the match between England and South Africa © Getty Images
England team manager Martin Johnson admitted his side were given a lesson in rugby by South Africa in their 42-6 mauling at Twickenham.
Five years to the day after he lifted the World Cup, Johnson cut a miserable figure as he tried to justify what was arguably England's worst performance for years.
Ruan Pienaar, Danie Rossouw, Adrian Jacobs, Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana all scored tries for the world champions, but all England could muster were two penalties from Danny Cipriani, who again failed to live up to his billing as the country's most promising talent.
"They gave us a lesson in certain areas of the game," said Johnson. "Obviously the main one was scoring tries, turning pressure into points. They defended very, very well. They are a very good team. They've got some very powerful guys and when they got in our half they didn't mess around. And their kicking game was better than ours. But I think if Danny Care had been playing in the Premiership today would have had a couple of tries, but the gaps he'd normally go through he didn't get through and they always managed to get an arm on him."
Despite being outclassed again in their sixth consecutive defeat to the Springboks and regularly showing poor decision-making, Johnson reaffirmed his intention to stick with the same players for next week's Test against New Zealand.
The All Blacks, ranked number one in the world, are perhaps an even tougher prospect than South Africa, but Johnson insisted his young side must be given time to improve and claimed there were positives to take from today's game.
"We created opportunities today but just didn't take them," he continued. "I thought we were still in the game at half-time. But we didn't turn pressure and opportunities into points. We had some gilt-edged chances but they defended very well. Territory-wise we were fine. We had enough of the game. I am backing these guys. Yes, they all made mistakes at times but they all did good things today.
"Our aim is to be as good as we can be as quickly as we can. They've gone through three tough games and taken steps the whole way. This is another step. We have to go through it to get to where we want to be."
Johnson said it will be a difficult week ahead trying to pick up his players for the All Blacks clash.
"The guys are desolate down there," he added. "To be beaten like that at home is the biggest disappointment. It's going to be a tough week but we need to bounce back and put things right for Saturday."
South Africa captain John Smit said he had a feeling something special was in the offing as he walked out of the tunnel. The Springboks did not have the best start, conceding an early penalty with Cipriani slotted over, but recovered in style to follow up their win here two years ago. Several key players were absent for that landmark victory - the first since 1997 - and Smit said that made them even hungrier today.
"Coming out of the changing room I had the feeling that something big was about to happen," said Smit. "We had a bad start but I deliberately didn't say anything to re-motivate the team and I was delighted with the way the guys came back. The character was amazing. To come here and do something like that is pretty special. Guys like Bakkies (Botha) and Victor (Matfield) did not have a Twickenham victory on their CVs and that was what we talked about before the game. It made them even hungrier."
The Springboks carved England open in the second half, showing a huge gulf in class and experience, but coach Peter de Villiers claimed Johnson's men did not always give his team an easy ride.
"It was a tough day," he said. "We always knew it was going to be tough. We made a few mistakes and England came out all guns blazing. For 80 minutes we had to concentrate very hard. But we were brilliant with the ball in hand and we were brilliant without the ball." De Villiers added: "We didn't control everything today and that is our next challenge."
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