England v New Zealand
Johnson unmoved by Haka speculation
November 28, 2008
Martin Johnson needs his side to up the intensity against the All Blacks © Getty Images
Martin Johnson has insisted that his side will do their talking after kick-off against New Zealand, and not in response to the Haka. Much attention has been focused on England's response to the Kiwi Haka following Wales' stand-off last weekend, but Johnson is unmoved by the speculation.
"It is no good just having a good Haka performance. The start of the game is after the Haka and we have things to put right on the field. We have to give our message on the field. Nobody felt worse about the result last week than the players, who put their heart and soul into it. We don't take those things lightly, It hurt."
Despite dominating possession last weekend against South Africa, Johnson's side were hammered 42-6 in their worst ever defeat at Twickenham. Against the All Blacks, not only will England have to keep the opposition at bay, they will have to use the ball far more effectively than they did against the Springboks.
"Everything is about attitude," continued Johnson. "The confidence takes a dent when you get beaten like that. It is our job to get it back up again. It is always a tall order to beat the All Blacks. How many Test matches do they lose? How many do they lose in Britain?
"We are heavy underdogs and there is a reason for that - we got beaten heavily last week and they didn't. We have to do things better than they do. We have increased the intensity. We have to translate the pressure on the field onto the scoreboard. We need to be in the game after an hour and take the All Blacks to somewhere they haven't been for quite a long while."
New Zealand's grit and determination was exemplified last weekend by their fightback from 9-6 down at half-time, scoring 23 unanswered points to take victory in Cardiff and move themselves to within one victory of a third Grand Slam tour.
Johnson said, "We can't leak soft tries, we can't have charge downs, we can't give away silly penalties," said Johnson. "If there is adversity in the game - if they score, we have to score next. We have to win all those little battles."
One "little battle" that could prove crucial is England's management of Dan Carter, so dangerous against even the most battle-hardened defence. England defence coach Mike Ford explained, "Carter is probably the best player in the world because he can change a decision in mid-air. They are a formidable attacking side but we believe in the systems that we have got. We need to be more aggressive and I'm sure we will see that this weekend."
Phil Vickery has also backed England to show the resolve required to fight back at Twickenham. "It is all very well saying to guys it will not always be like this in international rugby - because it will be if you don't do something about it. It will only get worse," said Vickery. "You can't hide from what is around you. You have to make sure they learn from it. I do think there is a resolve in the team. I think they will learn a huge amount from last week - but they have to learn fast.
"We are underdogs, it is a fact. No-one can defend last weekend's scoreline. What are we going to do to make it better? The players have to ask themselves: 'Are you fit enough and strong enough? Do you want it enough? Is your skill level high enough?' You have to challenge yourself. One of the greatest tributes I can give to the New Zealand team is that they are the benchmark. That is where you want to be. They are relentless in their pursuit for excellence and it is a great example for us all."
Vickery's challenge was coupled with a message about what he believes this England team can achieve - and his own career is proof positive. Vickery came through England's harrowing 1998 Tour from Hell and a series of debilitating back injuries to win the 2003 World Cup and captain his country to second place in 2007.
"At the moment everything is doom and gloom and a little bit of a noose around the neck - but a lot of teams have been in this situation," he said. "In 2002 we beat South Africa 53-3. Six years later they are world champions. Look what can be achieved. It will be a long, hard road - but it can be achieved."