Monday, February 1, 2010

SIX NATIONS 2010: Martin Johnson is facing his biggest Test

Martin Johnson, in charge of England for 18 months, must know that when the

RBS Six Nations Championship begins in six days’ time, there really will be no

excuses for failure.

Nearly all the players injured and absent during England’s depressing performances in the autumn are back — Riki Flutey, Nick Easter and Delon Armitage among them — and Johnson and his coaching staff are adamant that lessons will be learned.

Not even two men who played alongside England’s manager for both Leicester and the national team are under any illusions about what is riding on one, single rugby match.

‘It’s probably England’s biggest game since Johnno’s been in charge,’ said former England captain Martin Corry. And Ben Kay, who packed down alongside Johnson in the 2003 World Cup final when England’s captain famously lifted the Webb Ellis trophy, added: ‘England versus Wales is absolutely massive. I’d argue that it’s

England’s biggest game in the whole of the Six Nations, even if at the end of it

they are going for the Grand Slam.’

‘I know people always bring up player resources and revenue but, put simply, look how many intense games of rugby Ireland’s Paul O’Connell plays in a season. Then look at how many any of the England boys do. No wonder we never have a settled team because there are always so many injuries.’

Kay stresses, too, the importance to England’s squad morale of getting off to a good start — and not giving Twickenham Man the opportunity to indulge in further jeering of the national team.

‘Win and England have confidence,’ said Kay. ‘Don’t forget, the likes of myself, Mike Catt, Phil Vickery and others who played on after 2003 could take the abuse when we were losing because we were experienced. But many of our younger, less experienced players, have spent the past two years being told by everyone in the game and the media how bad they are.

‘We have a big confidence issue in this country, a problem you never see in the southern hemisphere, and that’s why our new Test players are so fearful of costly errors. Lose and suddenly the remaining matches in the Six Nations look a great deal worse.

‘Coaches need more time than that. The best example of this is Clive Woodward, who could have lost his job after two indifferent years, but whose England side became the best in the world after six years.

Corry remains confident for his old team-mate’s fate. ‘England will go to Paris for their fifth and final game against France with both playing for the Grand Slam,’ he insisted, adding that he was not simply speaking out of loyalty to Johnson.

England V Wales Hospitality

Scotland V England Hospitality

Ireland V Italy Hospitality

France V Italy Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

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