England v France, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 26
England primed to go on the attack
February 25, 2011
Johnson talks to the media ahead of his side's Six Nations showdown with France © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson has promised his side will stick to their expansive approach to the game when they tackle France in an eagerly-awaited Six Nations clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
Grand Slam dreams will be on the line as the only two undefeated sides left in the Championship go head-to-head and Johnson has told his side to stick to the game plan that brought them their first victory over Wales in Cardiff since 2003 and their biggest Six Nations win in a decade, registered against Italy.
"We will go out and give it an absolute crack. The good thing with these lads is they will go out and play," said Johnson. "Over the last 18 months we have had a group of young players who have forced their way into the team, they have had their opportunities to play and taken them.
"The form and consistency has improved and you start getting some of the good things that happened last week and the week before [against Wales and Italy]. France have a very good all-round game and are dangerous but we back ourselves as well. You want to be in the headlines and hopefully we can do that with our performance on Saturday."
Johnson also revealed that he is still haunted by the memories of last year's defeat to France in Paris - and he wants revenge. Although England's performance that night proved to be a watershed in the development of his young side, Johnson reflects on the 12-10 defeat as the most disappointing of his coaching career. France celebrated their Grand Slam triumph while Johnson and his coaching team were left fuming at referee Bryce Lawrence and England's wasted opportunity of a victory in Paris.
"Our guys gave a good account of themselves last year. We got ourselves in a position where we could have won that Test match and we didn't," Johnson reflected. "It was a really, really disappointing game to lose. I mean a very, very disappointing game to lose when you think we had done what we did in their stadium, against the Grand Slam champions.
"It was my most disappointing defeat. There were some real disappointing calls that changed the game fundamentally. Afterwards, the players are back at their clubs getting ready for the next game. We are sitting there thinking 'if only'. That is the difficult thing for us. Once it is done on Monday morning it is a quiet place. Who says I am over it?"
If England are to win on Saturday they must learn the lessons of that Paris defeat when tight-head Nicolas Mas inspired a dominant French pack. Scrum coach Graham Rowntree believes the England unit are better for that experience and on Saturday they will have Andrew Sheridan back at loose-head. Sheridan has recovered from the back spasm which kept him out of the Italy game - and Johnson did not mince his words about how important the Sale prop will be to England's cause.
"It is pretty clear when you look at what was happening last year, we have to be very strong on our loose-head side," Johnson said. "Mas likes to get into that gap and put a lot of pressure through there. We have to stop him. We know it's coming. We have got to be up to it.
"They will want to get an advantage at the scrum rugby-wise and that will also be a psychological advantage. Sheridan is strong and powerful and he stands up in the toughest physical challenges in world rugby."
Alex Corbisiero, who started against Italy as a late replacement for Sheridan, moves to the bench in place of the injured Bath prop David Wilson. Lewis Moody, Johnson's captain, failed in his bid to recover from knee ligament damage in time to play France after suffering a recurrence during his comeback game for Bath last weekend.
"He's our captain, we all know what he brings to the team and he's worked really hard to get back, everyone was confident but these things happen, unfortunately," Johnson said. "He's disappointed, but we haven't had him so far and the other guys have done a good job, we're fully happy with James (Haskell) and Tom (Wood)."
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