Johnson takes pride in progress

Manager satisfied with England's improvement since run of autumn defeats

Martin Johnson was not quite in "I told you so" mood, but when the England manager made an early return to Twickenham yesterday to assess his team's performance in the recently concluded Six Nations Championship, he had the satisfied air of a man who had proved a point or two. "There were flashes of progress even back in the autumn," he said, harking back to a hideous run of defeats at the hands of the southern hemisphere elite, "but people don't want to hear about it when you're losing games. It's easier to make the case now we've won a couple. I'm proud of how far we've come."

Precisely how far that is, he could not say with any certainty. "We're further along the road, but exactly how far, and how much further we have to go, I don't know," he admitted. "But the spirit is building – there's a real feeling in the squad now. We finished second in the Six Nations. Were we really the second best side in the tournament? There were times when it didn't seem like it, but it's where we ended up. It was a close competition, and Ireland won a Grand Slam because they found ways of winning tight games. Would it turn out the same way if the same tournament was played over the next five weeks? Who knows?"

He is hardly in the habit of singling out individuals and setting them apart from the common herd, but he could not resist making special mention of the two flankers who finished as first-choice members of the back-row combination, Tom Croft and Joe Worsley, and also had encouraging things to say about Toby Flood, the outside-half who prospered in the absences of two more celebrated playmakers: the eternally injured Jonny Wilkinson and the spectacularly over-hyped Danny Cipriani. On the latter subject, the manager was rather less than complimentary.

"Nothing has changed as of last week: Danny is in our squad, along with Toby and Andy Goode, and we have no concerns over the processes we've been going through," said Johnson when asked about Cipriani's current place in the batting order. "Am I disappointed in him? No. Well... we always make our selections based around those we think give us the best chance of winning, and he hasn't featured," the manager replied. "We haven't been picking him, either to play or as part of the match-day XXII, although he's been available for selection."

Johnson was far more positive about the role played by Brian Smith, his attack coach, in the months since his recruitment from London Irish. "The attacking side of the game takes far longer to fit into place than any other aspect," the manager said. "That's a given. But again, when you're losing, people don't want to listen. The things Brian has been doing all season are paying dividends now."

The aforementioned Wilkinson, out of rugby since dislocating a kneecap at Gloucester last September, will be missing from the Newcastle line-up once again when Leicester, the Premiership leaders, visit Kingston Park this evening. The World Cup-winning goal-kicker suffered a setback in his training programme last week and now has precious few matches left in which to make a late bid for a place on the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa this summer. Another playmaker who knows what it is to drink from the Webb Ellis Trophy, the Springbok No 10 Butch James, is also off the roster for tonight. Bath, pushing hard for a place in the end-of-season knock-out stage, will face Sale at Edgeley Park with Ryan Davis, recently recovered from a serious knee condition, in the pivot role.

Meanwhile, organisers of the Celtic-based Magners League have agreed, at least in principle, to welcome two Italian teams into the tournament from the start of the 2010-11 season. The quality of Italy's domestic rugby has been in freefall since the mass exodus of Test players to England and France in the middle years of this decade and it badly needs an injection of regular cross-border competition to improve standards.

Manager's choice: Three England successes

Johnson on: Joe Worsley (Wasps)

"People felt we made a strange choice, picking Joe at open-side flanker against Wales. As it turned out, he was one of our players of the tournament."

Johnson on: Tom Croft (Leicester)

"The selection of Tom worked out as well as it could have done, especially with him having a huge responsibility at the line-out in the last two games."

Johnson on: Toby Flood (Leicester)

"He improved game by game and there's a lot of improvement still to come. I thought he played some excellent rugby."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee