England v France, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 26
Johnson confident of exploiting French frailty
February 25, 2011
Martin Johnson looks on during training ahead of Saturday's pivotal Championship encounter with France © Getty Images
England team manager Martin Johnson believes that if his side put France under enough pressure in their crunch Six Nations clash at Twickenham on Saturday, Les Bleus could suffer another one of their infamous mental meltdowns.
France arrive in London as the reigning Grand Slam champions but, as ever, question marks remain over their temperament. Indeed, while they have kicked off the defence of their Championship crown with victories over Scotland and Ireland, their embarrassing 59-16 capitulation at home to Australia last autumn - a game in which they conceded six second-half tries - underlines the fact that they remain prone to collapse.
In addition, they have triumphed just once on their last six visits to Twickenham - in 2005 - and while Johnson knows full well what this talented French side is capable of, he feels that they are eminently beatable if England play with the right brand of intensity.
"Everyone says that you never know which French side will show up - but you can effect that with how you play," Johnson said. "If you let them play they will look fantastic. If you get them under pressure it is harder for them.
"We are not coming here expecting them to be anything other than dangerous - but we can effect that. Our players have proved to themselves that if they play near their best they will be in a Test match with anyone. If they get things right through the game they are capable of having a crack at anyone."
Johnson's sentiments were echoed by those of stand-in skipper Mike Tindall, who believes that it is imperative that England get on the front-foot right from the off.
"You don't know which French side will turn up but you also know if they play as well as they can they are the world's best," the centre said. "If you have a bad start they pick up momentum and can be very hard to stop.
"You have to get on top of them and contain them. Especially with the French, if you can give them nothing and really put them under pressure in that first 20 you can get on top of them. We will try and explode out of the blocks and impose our game from the start and hopefully give them a tough time.
"We are about producing a performance every time we take the field and if we get that performance the results will come on the back of it. We managed to do that in the wins against Wales and Italy. That is not going to change tomorrow."
England were beaten 12-10 by France in Paris last year but earned widespread praise for a spirited and exciting performance. Encouragingly for England, Tindall believes that they are now far better equipped to upset Les Bleus.
"We have come a long way since last year's game," he said. "We used to talk about peaks and troughs and we have had little stumbling blocks like the South Africa game (in November) - but as a gradient we have been on an upward slope and we want to keep it that way.
"We want to play a high-tempo game with movement. When you have people who make line breaks like Mark Cueto, Ashton and Foden you have to give them that freedom because that is what makes them the players they are. They are probably one of the best back-three units in the world. We have to find ways to get them in the game."
For Johnson, though, the key will be the set-piece, believing that France will try to target England in the scrum.
"France have always been the best scrummagers in the Six Nations. We will need all hands on deck when we are scrummaging," the World Cup winner said. "Some teams you play are just there to survive in the scrum and do other things. It is part of France's psyche to get some form of dominance there."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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