England
Jonno's World Cup warning for England
ESPN Staff
November 3, 2014
England's Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson celebrate winning the World Cup, Australia v England, Rugby World Cup Final, Stadium Australia, Sydney, Australia, November 22, 2003
Martin Johnson lifted the World Cup with England in 2003 © Getty Images
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England's World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson says the 2015 hosts will have to learn to cope with "horrendous" pressure in the build-up to the tournament.

Stuart Lancaster's side kick off their Autumn Test series against New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday as they prepare for the first World Cup to be played on their home soil since 1999.

Johnson claimed England "got it wrong" with their preparations for the last tournament, when they lost to South Africa in the quarter-finals, and said dealing with the huge expectations for them will be key next year.

"World Cup games are not like any other games," Johnson told the Daily Telegraph. "They're tooth and nail fights. The pressure is immense.

"All the way through the 2003 tournament [in Australia], we were constantly fending off people who were saying: 'Aw, you didn't play that well.' But it's a World Cup, you know? When we beat South Africa in our pool, that was the most pressurised game of my life, by some degree.

"When you have a home World Cup in particular, there's going to be so many demands on players from everywhere. To be able to mentally cope with that, to just go and play, is the key thing.

"Finding the right mental balance is critical when you're playing a World Cup at home. We got it wrong in 1999 because we made it such a big thing. Everything was about, 'If you make that mistake you lose the World Cup'. You can't exist like that, the games become almost unplayable."

Johnson added that England learned from their experience in 1999 - something that was vital in their 2003 World Cup triumph.

"Eventually, experience tells you actually it's just about the game, about what you deliver on the day," Johnson added. "But even in 2003, the build-up was horrendous.

"We put 50 points on the South Africans in 2002, and Corne Krige said: 'We'll see you in Perth.' I remember being in London one time that summer when some South African got out of a cab and he said exactly the same thing. It was like, 'Calm yourself down,' you know?

"To have done what we'd done, beaten the southern hemisphere teams in consecutive weekends and finally won the grand slam, the thought of actually losing the pool game to South Africa and all that entailed was beyond comprehension. It was dread.

"I went down to the stadium the night before because it was a night game. I'd never done that before, but I just wanted to focus on the game and get my head around it.

"When the Springboks came out I thought, 'F***, thank God, we're going to win'. I looked at them and they were quite young. It was the start of that team: Bakkies [Botha], Juan Smith. They were a good team, they were dangerous and they did test us. But we were playing rugby, all that other stuff was gone, and we could just go out and win the game."

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