England 6-19 New Zealand, Twickenham, November 21
Johnson praises battling performance
November 21, 2009
Lewis Moody in action, England training session, Twickenham, November 21, 2009
Lewis Moody has lent his support to England coach Martin Johnson © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Dan Carter | Lewis Moody
Tournaments/Tours: New Zealand tour
Teams: England | New Zealand

Martin Johnson hailed England's response to a week of relentless criticism after they went down fighting against New Zealand at Twickenham.

The All Blacks emerged 19-6 winners but England showed enough passion and fire to ease the pressure on Johnson's regime brought about by dismal displays against Australia and Argentina.

"I have mixed feelings because we could have been in the game with 10 minutes to go," he said. "When they scored it was a little too much for us to peg back but, saying that, we had chances at the end.

"I'm proud of the effort the players and coaches have put in all week and everything they've done. It's been a tough week with all the criticism flying around. A lot of the guys took knocks but were hanging on at the end despite being injured.

"We could have been in there with a shout with 10 minutes to go. We had plenty of chances to score tries as we spent time in their 22. I'm proud of the guys but ultimately it's an opportunity lost to have a crack at them."

The harshest criticism this week has been directed at assistant coaches John Wells, Brian Smith and Mike Ford, but Johnson confirmed they will remain in place for the Six Nations.

"I'm happy with the coaching team. Considering what they've been through, they've done a brilliant job," he said. "Absolutely this is the team I want for the Six Nations."

England have been ravaged by injury yet Johnson, who revealed Joe Worsley picked up a knee injury in the second minute, claims they have made progress.

"As a group we've gone forward. We came into the series with a lot of disruption," he said. "Only four players who started the Scotland game started the Australia game. If it's not visible on the field at times, then off the pitch this group is a lot further down the line than in the Six Nations.

"The way they've handled themselves this week has been tremendous. We came into the series with a lot of disruption and that's been well documented."

New Zealand coach Graham Henry hailed his side's performance as the All Blacks' best of the tour, with victories over Australia, Wales and Italy already in the bank.

"That was our best game on tour - we played some quality rugby and I'm delighted with what they've done," said Henry. "We thought England would be right up for it and it proved that way. I was very impressed with the way they played. They were very physical and Martin will be pleased with what they produced."

Man of the match Richie McCaw felt the All Blacks would have put England to the sword had they been more clinical. "We changed our point of attack in the second half - we tried to go through the middle and profited from that," McCaw said. "They had to put a lot of tackles in and that took a fair bit out of them. We were close to opening the game up in the second half. We created a few chances but didn't finish them off."

England flanker Lewis Moody insisted there were plenty of positives to take from the game and insisted he was fully behind under-fire England coach Martin Johnson.

"Martin's the heart and soul of the team, he leads by example and it rubs off on us," he told BBC Sport. "He gave us a good talk before the game which did us good - for the first 20 minutes we threw everything at them. I'm never happy losing but we threw everything at them. I'm disappointed to lose but proud of the guys. But I'm gutted we couldn't get over the try line."

Fly-half Dan Carter kicked 14 points for the All Blacks, who scored a single try, and he admitted there was room for improvement ahead of their trip to France next week.

"We're happy to get the win but parts of our game definitely need to improve," he said. "It's never easy so we'll take that and work on the bits that need working on during the week. Defensively we're very sound, we pride ourselves on it, it's definitely something for the boys to be proud of but attacking, we need to work on holding on to the ball, building phases and being composed."

And Carter was quick to admit that his own performance was not at its usual high standard. "I missed a couple of easy ones," he said. "I wasn't getting my timing right. I'm reasonably happy with the long-range ones but there's some work to do during the week."

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