English Rugby
England chief demands two victories
ESPNscrum Staff
October 22, 2010

Rugby Football Union chief executive John Steele expects England to notch at least two victories during their daunting autumn international campaign.

England tackle Tri-Nations champions New Zealand, Australia and South Africa plus Samoa on successive Saturdays at Twickenham next month. Steele is hopeful that the Martin Johnson's men can kick on from their morale-boosting victory over Australia in Sydney this summer but has called for a "degree of realism" as their World Cup preparations step up a gear.

"Playing the top three teams in world and Samoa is probably a harder group of games than you'd face in most World Cup runs," said Steele. "Currently we're sixth in the world so a degree of realism is important. We think a reasonable expectation is to win two out of the four matches."

Recent reports have claimed the axe could fall on Johnson's management team if England have a poor autumn but Steele's comments appear to safeguard his immediate future.

"What we need to establish is: can we compete with the best in the world? We'll know from how we play if that's the case," Steele told the RFU podcast. "That said, we're playing at Twickenham and we have a coaching team and a playing group who are coming together very well and the results in Australia were indicative of that.

"Once we've had the Investec Internationals we'll do what all high performing organisations do in sport and analyse what we did, where we can improve and what it means for the next milestone which is the RBS Six Nations.

"My role is to support Martin Johnson and the England team and ensure they've got everything they need to perform. England's had six or seven years of chopping and changing and not being quite sure what it's trying to achieve and I think there's a real opportunity to see a squad that's now on the up."

The RFU insist Johnson's position is bullet-proof through to next year's Rugby World Cup and the former England captain has the authority to select his own coaching team. "I don't think I need that sense of security," said Johnson. "My job is to prepare the team, select the team and manage the team to get the best results.

"We want to be very competitive now but you have an eye on World Cups too. We will be a better team for the All Blacks game, better for the autumn and a better team in 2011. The team is going in the right direction.

"You have to play the best in the world if you want to challenge. You saw the improvement game on game in Australia. We have been through some tough times and that is part of the road you travel and we will be stronger for it. The Sydney win came out of those times."

England's elite rugby director Rob Andrew is confident the team's World Cup preparations will not be disrupted by any club-versus-country conflicts. Under the RFU's £110million deal with the Aviva Premiership clubs, Johnson can name a 50-man provisional World Cup squad who will all come under his control from the day after their last club game of the season.

That deal does not apply directly to France-based trio Jonny Wilkinson, James Haskell and Tom Palmer whose clubs are only obliged to release them to England 35 days before the World Cup. But Andrew has been assured all three have clauses in their French club contracts which guarantee their release on the same lines as Premiership players.

That will give Johnson unbroken access to his squad from the end of May through to the start of the World Cup in September.

"The agreement with the Premiership is that we can name a squad of 50 and we have those players from the day after their last club game through to the end of the World Cup," said Andrew. "We have nothing to do with the IRB's regulation nine and the 35-day release in terms of English clubs and the RFU because the agreement supercedes that.

"We have asked those who go to France to insist in their contracts they have exactly the same conditions as England-based players. We have been assured by all guys who have been included in the EPS squad that that is the case. We expect to get them at exactly the same time."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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