France 12-10 England, Six Nations, March 20
Johnson bites back at critics
March 21, 2010
England manager Martin Johnson watches his side in action, France v England, Six Nations, Stade de France, Paris, France, March 20, 2010
England manager Martin Johnson watches his side in action in Paris © Getty Images

England manager Martin Johnson has hit back at the notion that his side have only just discovered some attacking ambition.

Johnson's side brought the curtain down on a largely disappointing Six Nations campaign with a 12-10 defeat at the hands of Grand Slam-chasing France in Paris but showed glimpses of an expansive approach that has been virtually non-existent for much of the championship.

The England boss admitted the performances in previous games had been "frustrating", but shrugged off the suggestion that his side has only just remembered how to play. "The crap that has been spoken about style and ambition makes you laugh. What did France do? They had to win the game, they won the game. They killed the last 10 minutes," said Johnson.

"We played the way we thought would win you the game. There has never been a lack of willingness to play rugby and we have all been frustrated by some of the performances. Last week's game at Murrayfield was very hard to watch with 25 minutes wasted with scrum re-sets.

"We got derided for saying that Scotland weren't half bad - and they went and beat Ireland away. Ambition is important to win games and that is what you are here to do."

Johnson was in a spiky mood after the match and he took the opportunity to single out the work done by attack coach Brian Smith in spotting a chink in France's defensive armoury that England exploited for the only try of the game with debutant winger Chris Ashton showing great handed to put fullback Ben Foden in for the score.

"The coaches take a lot of criticism but it was a great analysis and a great call to go for the outside with the way that Mathieu Bastareaud defends," said Johnson. "Ultimately it was great work from the players to execute it but Smithy said Bastareaud will come out (of the line) and if you get a chance just trust your hands. It was a pity it started to rain actually because we had done that a few times."

Johnson also feels anyone who wrote off fly-half Jonny Wilkinson after he was dropped to the bench for game should eat their words. Wilkinson was replaced at fly-half by Toby Flood after England's drab 15-15 draw with Scotland, heightening speculation that the world's leading points scorer is on the wane.

The 30-year-old himself admitted on Friday that he has lost his natural rugby instincts and would never want to be selected for England on his reputation alone. Wilkinson came off the bench in Paris last night after 63 minutes and impressed Johnson with his control and the remarkable touchline penalty from 45 metres out which brought England to within two points.

"I read some stuff about Jonny this week - and then you see him land a touchline penalty kick like that. It makes you smile," said Johnson. "You make these calls based on what you think might happen. Having Jonny on the field in the last 20 minutes, pretty fresh, is what we wanted."

After watching his side hold their own against France, England captain Lewis Moody believes the team can improve another 30%. The Leicester man told BBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek programme: "We started off well against Wales but we didn't keep that momentum going. If we had done we would certainly have been competing for a Grand Slam against France. We lost to Ireland in the last couple of minutes and we drew a game against Scotland we should have won. It was all there for us. But this team knows where it has got to go now.

"I know as a player how much this team has left to give, and we have another 30% to go as a team. We addressed that this week and that showed in the way we played. Knowing that gives me great confidence for the future.

"It's frustrating coming off the pitch knowing it was a game you could have won but we couldn't have asked any more of the team, we put every bit of ourselves into that game," he said. "We kept them at bay all day, they never posed much of a threat in attack. I thought we played a lot of rugby but unfortunately we just couldn't finish it off."


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