England shape up for new season
September 15, 2010
England boss Martin Johnson is hoping his side can live at the pace of the current international game © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson is confident his squad will rise to the challenge of a daunting November campaign and is unfazed by the fast-paced and intense rugby served up during this year's Tri-Nations.
New Zealand powered to this year's southern hemisphere crown thanks to a multi-dimensional approach that reaped a record points haul and an unprecedented 22 tries and while South Africa imploded, Australia also looked very impressive at times. But Johnson, buoyed by England's defeat of the Wallabies in June, is relishing the prospect of meeting all three and Samoa later this year as the countdown continues to next year's Rugby World Cup.
"I'm not fazed by what I've seen in the Tri-Nations, but what I've told the players is that we have to get back to Test match intensity from the start," he said. "When you play these guys they have the ability to score points quickly so we have to be right on our game from the start. You have to be able to handle 80 minutes of pressurised Test rugby to beat New Zealand. That is no secret.
"A lot of guys understand after Sydney what it takes to win with an 80-minute performance. It would be good for us to have real continuity in what we did from the Six Nations through the summer tour and into November."
Johnson insists his players are the fittest they have been since he became manager thanks in part to the Global Positioning System monitors demonstrated today by the Rugby Football Union's elite department. The devices enable Johnson and his coaching team to measure an individual's heart-rate, distance travelled and speed and can even detect if they are suffering from illness or carrying an injury.
Using the information, the week's training schedule is tailored to ensure players are not over or under exerted and that practice drills mimic the demands of rugby as much as possible. Johnson has already seen the benefits of a system that is also used by eight of the 12 Aviva Premiership clubs, both for training and during matches.
"The guys came in recently and were (fitness) tested and the results were the best since I've been here," he said. "Some of the guys had world-class statistics a year ago but others who weren't quite there have improved.
"Last summer I thought that we could improve our fitness in certain areas. It wasn't unsatisfactory a year ago, but it's definitely better now and it needs to be. You hear a lot from around the clubs that guys are in good shape and working harder. Fitness-wise we are up there now, but the key thing is what the score is when we play teams like New Zealand."
England have been forced to improve their conditioning as the intensity of matches, both international and in the Premiership, grows. "We talked about it before the summer tour to Australia and New Zealand, but the players have to experience it for themselves," Johnson said. "Even in the midweek games the players were saying afterwards that it was the fastest pace they had experienced.
"What we've seen in the first two weeks of the Premiership has been great - the continuity in the games, the ability to keep the ball and run it, and the speed at the breakdown. The speed of the game has definitely increased - we saw it coming at the end of last season and during the summer tour. We know we can improve. We weren't behind in the summer but we can get better."