Johnson shrugs off Lievremont word games
February 21, 2011
France coach Marc Lievremont face a Six Nations showdown against England at Twickenham on Saturday © Getty Images
England boss Martin Johnson has welcomed France coach Marc Lievremont's apparent attempts to spice up Saturday's Six Nations showdown at Twickenham.
Lievremont turned up the heat ahead of the clash with an anti-English outburst in which he branded Johnson's team as the most-hated team in the Championship - claiming "We all don't like the English." But instead of getting rattled by Lievremont's headline-grabbing comments Johnson has treated them as a back-handed compliment and stressed his side had already proven against Wales they are capable of handling the pressure.
"I don't know about fear, maybe there is a little bit of that there. If I read Marc's quotes correctly they respect us as a team," Johnson said. "They have said from the outset that if they win here they will win the Championship.
"We have been through one of these big build-ups already for the Wales game. That was a big challenge for us as a team and some of our individuals. I thought we handled it well. We are used to it. It is what we want. These big games are what we work for. There will be pressure, there will be quotes used by the media to generate the hype.
"There is enough history in this game and in the history of the two countries to spice it up. I quite enjoy it. Everyone wants to get there. Everyone here wants us to win. It may not be the case around the rest of Europe but that doesn't matter.
"People like to beat England. There is history involved with that and most of it is not rugby history. That is what makes the tournament fun, that is why people like it. It is passion. People want their country to win."
Unlike his Welsh counterpart Warren Gatland, who singled out England hooker Dylan Hartley in the pre-match war of words, Lievremont decided to focus on the English nation as a whole. But like Wales, he risks stinging England into action as they both look to maintain their push for Grand Slam glory.
"We don't like them and it's better to say that than be hypocritical," said the former France flanker. "We have a bit of trouble with the English. We respect them - in my case at least I respect them - but you couldn't say we have the slightest thing in common with them.
"We appreciate our Italian cousins with whom we share the same quality of life. We appreciate the Celts and their conviviality and among all these nations we have one huge thing in common. We all don't like the English."
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England fly-half Toby Flood responded with his tongue firmly in cheek, a clear indication that any attempt to rattle the squad had failed. "I like going to Paris so it is frustrating to know that when I go over there they don't like me," Flood joked. "Maybe he was trying to unsettle us, I don't know. It shows people are taking notice of us and asking questions about how we are playing."
Whatever impression other countries have of Johnson's England, Flood insisted they are not arrogant enough to believe they are anywhere near the finished article. This time last year England opened their campaign with two victories but failed to win another match.
"I don't think we are getting too far ahead of ourselves. We have had a couple of good performances," Flood added. "This is the biggest Test match we have had in a long time. Only one side can leave it with the chance of a Grand Slam."
France are traditionally unpredictable, particularly away from home. Two years ago, they trailed England 29-0 at half-time. But Johnson, cautious of complacency, will spend this week drumming home the message that England must prepare for the kind of performance France produced to beat Ireland in Dublin.
"Their win in Dublin was a win any team in this Championship would have been proud of getting," Johnson said. "All the talk of `France dont play well at Twickenham, France don't travel well` is dangerous. They think winning here is their route to winning the championship."
England captain Lewis Moody has linked up with the squad after making a successful comeback from a knee injury and he looks set to be involved in some capacity against France.
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