Johnson refuses to turn his frown upside down
Sunday 20 June 2010
It took Martin Johnson a little while to work his way into "told-you-so" mode – his initial response to the first English Test victory south of the Equator in almost seven years was a thoroughly curmud- geonly "pretty pleased" – but once he found his touch there was no stopping him.
"There's a lot spoken about flair and imagination, all that romantic stuff you guys write about," he said to his questioners, precious few of whom had been kind to him in the build-up to this game. "The fact of the matter is that we put the Australians under pressure."
Johnson played all his serious club rugby at Leicester, where creativity features somewhere beneath the quality of loo paper on the list of priorities, and was at the heart of the meanest red-rose pack in living memory. As far as he is concerned, pressure is 99 per cent of the law in this sport – that and accuracy.
"I keep on saying that when we do what we do well, we're effective," he said. "When we make mistakes, we're not. We weren't perfect out there but we did a lot of things far better than we did them a week ago."
There could be no arguing with that last remark, although it might be pointed out that the flash of individual, try-scoring brilliance from Ben Youngs on his first start at scrum-half went a very long way to undermining an Australian side who had persuaded themselves that England did not have in them even the merest traces of individualism or brilliance.
"We took our opportunities," acknowledged the team manager, but he would go no further in celebrating the fancy- dan aspect of this performance. "We told the players at half-time that the rest of the game would be all about work-rate, that people would get injured and that the victory would go to those who managed to hang in there," he said, by way of reinforcing his position.
By hanging in there as effectively as they did, the players spared Johnson another round of fierce criticism. Robbie Deans, the Wallabies coach, agreed that the result would "make the summer a bit easier for Martin to approach", but as far as the beetle-browed Englishman was concerned the subject was a red herring. "I don't worry about my record or my job," he said. "I worry about this team getting better and playing more consistently."
Deans appeared wounded by the sharp turnaround from the Perth Test. "Our intensity tapered off, most obviously in defence," he said. "We didn't make them work nearly hard enough for the tries they scored in the first half." Rocky Elsom, the Wallaby captain, sounded a similar refrain – "Our intensity wasn't good enough against a desperate side in need of a win," he said – while Matt Giteau, guilty of a scarcely credible penalty miss that might well have won the game, was stung by the experience. Asked whether he was embarrassed, he said: "It's not my proudest moment. There are no excuses."
Talking of pride, the fresh-faced Youngs was positively awash with the stuff. "Everyone dreams about making his first start for England but for everything to fall into place like that makes it extra-special," said the 20-year-old.
"There had been no lack of heart or effort in Perth. The difference here was that we got it right with our physicality. I'd like to think that even if Giteau had kicked the goal, we'd have had enough to go back at them and score again."
And his thoughts on skinning Drew Mitchell for his try? "I stood him up with a bit of footwork," he said, grinning from ear to ear. "I knew I could run round him with the angle I had."
Ah, the confidence of youth. Johnson may prize the collective over the individual, but even he must accept that every now and again a little tripping of the light fantastic is good for the soul.
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