Johnson warns England to cut out the 'if onlys' in Australia duel

Whatever it was the long-suffering Twickenham crowd took from England's second-half performance against the All Blacks last weekend – a degree of satisfaction in the re-emergence of the red-rose pack as a serious force in the international game, perhaps, or a strong impression that Chris Ashton might develop into a wing of the highest class – it cut little ice with the manager. Martin Johnson was as grumpy yesterday as he had been at the end of the summer tour of Australia and New Zealand, and for precisely the same reasons.

"We gave the All Blacks too many shots early on, just as we gave the Wallabies too many shots in the Perth Test back in June," he said. "There are too many 'if onlys' about us. You cannot make the mistakes we made, be as disjointed as we were, and expect to win. Often, it is not about one person making a glaring error. It is usually a case of a small thing leading to something else, which leads to something else again. When that happens, the opposition start making ground they shouldn't be making, we commit too many people to the breakdown, and space appears that should not be there.

"Australia are our opponents this weekend, and they are probably more dangerous than the All Blacks in the attacking sense. Just when you think you have things covered off, they find a way to get round you. If we get our numbers wrong, get too tight, they will hurt us with their variations. You cannot say 'this is what they are going to do', because they always come up with something different.

"The guys have to understand that this is a step up from club rugby – that at this level, you are not able to do as much, as often or as well as you do in the Premiership. It is a fact of life. In a way, Test rugby is simpler, more basic. You have one chance to do your job. You don't get a second bite."

For a man of relatively few words, this was a State of the Union moment, a recognition that at this late point in the World Cup cycle, there was no earthly point in doing anything other than tell it how it was. Johnson needs a victory against the Wallabies this weekend, and needs it badly. One win in six Tests, his current record, is lamentable enough: one win in seven would be the worst run since 2006, and we know what happened to the former manager Andy Robinson after that catalogue of calamities.

Predictably, there has been precious little tinkering. Dylan Hartley, the Northampton hooker, will start in the middle of the front row ahead of Steve Thompson, while the veteran Wasps forward Simon Shaw, fully recovered from a calf injury, replaces Dave Attwood as the bench cover at lock. And that is it.

Firm in his belief that the current lot have the ability to challenge the best of the southern hemisphere nations, the manager accepts that, as things stand, they do not quite possess the know-how. "Look at the way Richie McCaw plays," Johnson said, referring to the All Black captain, whose defensive performance under pressure last Saturday reinforced his reputation as the world's best forward. "He does a lot of clear and obvious things that influence a game, but he also does some very subtle things that impact just as much. That is what we need to learn."

As a player, Johnson was a master of detail. As a manager, he needs someone to influence the dynamic of a game in the same way, but the candidates are few in number. England may out-scrummage the Wallabies on Saturday, but unless they find a way of out-manipulating them, the barren run at Twickenham may well continue.

Keven Mealamu, one of the New Zealanders' most experienced forwards, was last night banned for four weeks for butting Lewis Moody during the Test match at Twickenham. Professor Lorne Crerar, the International Rugby Board's judical officer, upheld a citing against the All Black hooker, who will miss the three remaining matches of his team's Grand Slam programme – against Scotland at Murrayfield this weekend, Ireland and Wales.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss