Johnson urges England to feed off animosity

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Martin Johnson has steeled England for the most hostile RBS 6 Nations reception of them all ahead of Friday night's Millennium Stadium showdown with Wales.

England have not won in Cardiff since Johnson was captain in 2003, and he has warned his squad they will not experience a more fervent anti-English sentiment anywhere else in the championship.

Potentially a third of England's starting team - including the likes of Ben Youngs, Ben Foden and Dan Cole - will be playing a Test at the Millennium Stadium for the first time.

Johnson urged England to feed off that animosity and use it to kick-start their bid for a first Six Nations title since the Grand Slam in 2003.

"Being an Englishman in Cardiff on that weekend means you aren't the most popular, which is great. I'd rather have that than polite indifference," said Johnson.

"The Millennium is a great place to play - the most hostile in the Six Nations for an Englishman.

"The stadium being in the middle of Cardiff. It is all very tight with a good bus journey. They want to beat England at rugby - that is not a secret and we want to win down there.

"It is a great occasion for an Englishman to go to Cardiff and play. The opening game of the tournament in a World Cup year adds something.

"You have to enjoy it. You want to play in the big games. We have to be ready."

Johnson's message has certainly hit home.

Northampton wing Chris Ashton, who will play his first Test in Cardiff, is relishing the opportunity of stepping into the Welsh dragon's lair.

It was the prospect of nights like Friday at the Millennium Stadium that persuaded him to switch from rugby league in 2007.

"It was a massive part of it. This doesn't happen in rugby league. You don't get these kind of games. It's massively exciting, I can't wait," said Ashton.

"Listening to what Johnno says, I'm just so excited about the prospect."

Ashton got a taste of what he can expect in Northampton's fiery Heineken Cup encounters against the Cardiff Blues.

"They were two hard games. That's what you get when you play a team like Cardiff. I'd like to think when a game is finished the game is finished," Ashton added.

"This week it's Wales v England so there's enough bad blood there for it to spark over anyway.

"We didn't get a good start in the autumn, when we let ourselves down against New Zealand. We don't want to do that again.

"We don't want a slow start and this is the perfect chance and place to get going."

Ashton's stunning end-to-end try against Australia in November was today named as the the International Rugby Players' Association try of the year for 2010.

Wales wing Shane Williams, who is set to start opposite Ashton on Friday night, was among those to be nominated for the award.

"It is good to beat a player of his calibre but I'm not concentrating too much on the try of the year award - I'd rather get a try over him on Friday night," said Ashton, who is confident he can handle the weight of expectation.

"I just want to concentrate on being the best player in my position. Tries like that may come on the odd day. Hopefully one more will come on Friday."

England are set to be captained by Mike Tindall, although Johnson will not confirm his selection until the team announcement on Wednesday.

Tindall returned to training today after a thigh injury forced him home from last week's training camp in Portugal, and Johnson is confident Hendre Fourie will be available after a calf strain.