Wales v England, Six Nations Championship, February 14
Johnson braced for step up in class
February 8, 2009
England boss Martin Johnson has plenty of food for thought following his side's victory over Italy © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson has warned his side that they will face a 'hostile' reception both on and off the field when they take on Wales in a mouth-watering Six Nations clash in Cardiff next weekend.
Johnson watched his side stumble to an opening 36-11 Championship victory over Italy at Twickenham yesterday and accepted that his side must make rapid and substantial improvement if they are to trouble the defending champions at the Millennoum Stadium.
"Next week will be a step up in terms of a challenge," said Johnson. "When you play Australia or South Africa or New Zealand at home it is one thing but you go into these passionate stadiums and it will be a test for us.
"Wales have a very good team and the crowd will be right behind them. They play some very good attacking rugby, they offload the ball and they have got pace and we need to be on top of that. The hostile atmosphere in Cardiff will be an acid test of the team and our rugby. The players have to approach it in the right way.
"If we can quieten the crowd and win the game it is one of those days you will remember for the rest of your career. It is nice to have a winning changing room again and the players should enjoy that - but we have to improve for next week. It gives us a lot to work on. We need to keep improving and accelerate that as quickly as we can."
England scored five tries but no-one leaving Twickenham on Saturday evening would have been fooled by the scoreline with Italy gifting at least three of the five tries.
Johnson also has fresh concerns over England's discipline, not just in conceding penalties, which they continue to do carelessly, but in sticking to the game plan - the same issues he complained about in the autumn. James Haskell was sin-binned again for a trip on Gonzalo Garcia while Shane Geraghty was also despatched to the cooler for taking out McLean in the air.
"You have young guys playing a Test match and you say to them 'address your discipline' - but you have to hammer it in to them. They have got to understand that," said Johnson. "James' trip was silly. Shane was just a bit over-eager in his tackle but discipline covers everything we are trying to do.
"There were a few too many occasions that players did things we had said not to do because it would get us in trouble and a few times we did go off script again, which cost us. That is pressure. Guys go back to type a little bit and we have to keep hammering at them."
Fly-half Toby Flood will be available for selection again next weekend but Johnson was served an extra frustration when the England Saxons game against Ireland A was called off on Friday night, denying him the chance to assess Danny Cipriani's form. It remains to be seen if he keeps faith with Andy Goode at fly-half after his inconsistent display against the Azzurri.
Goode scored a try after just 95 seconds. He also made another for Riki Flutey but his positional kicking, like so many of those who have attempted to fill the boots of Jonny Wilkinson, lacked authority.
Goode said, "We talked all week about having a big first 15 minutes and luckily I just had enough speed to get down and get my hands on the ball. It was a great feeling. We did some good things, we did some not-so-good things and we know there is a lot to work on.
"We need to up all levels of our game. Wales are obviously a hostile bunch. It's a tough place to play. We'll soak up the atmosphere and hopefully have a big performance. There's not a chance we'll be intimidated. We'll try to impose our game on them.
"The younger guys don't fear anything and every player in that back line is a confident player. We are trying to play positive rugby. Another five or 10% improvement will help us against Wales. Let's not forget that last year England beat Italy by four points."
Scrum-half Harry Ellis also promised better in Cardiff. He said: "It was scrappy but we'll put those things right. Cardiff is a great atmosphere to play in. It will be a cauldron of noise and passion but it's something the guys will thrive on."