Martin Johnson warns England players about 'instant society'

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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson has warned his England players ahead of the clash with Samoa that their heroics against Australia last week could easily be forgotten in today's "instant society".

England will be carried into the game on a wave of a public euphoria following their record 35-18 victory over the Wallabies, which lifted them to fourth in the world rankings.

The identity of Johnson's England - both in terms of personnel and style of play - is finally beginning to take shape and the future looks much brighter.

But Johnson has spent all week trying to play down the notion that England have finally achieved their breakthrough victory.

The 2003 World Cup-winning captain has made sure his players have been left under no illusions that the Australia game must be considered a positive step along the road but not the final destination.

Anything else, Johnson warned, and they risk coming unstuck tomorrow at Twickenham against a Samoan team ranked 11th in the world but growing in confidence after their performance in a 20-10 defeat to Ireland last week.

"We are completely aware of what it can do to a team if you get ahead of yourselves," said Johnson.

"The world is so volatile. Some of the stuff I've had to deal with this week...we've won a game and played well but it's one game. Calm down. We have to back it up through this series and through the Six Nations.

"The perception of where you are is so high and so low, so quickly. It is an external thing and it's not just in our sport or sport as a whole, it's the world in general.

"We all live in an instant society where today's heroes are forgotten tomorrow and vice-versa.

"Just some of the people who have contacted me this week, about where we are as a team, I just said, "We're not there yet".

"What we are trying to do is go on a steady, smooth upward plane, but that's not life."

Johnson may have a point but the English rugby public have suffered mediocrity for so long that an outbreak of optimism after such an impressive performance is entirely understandable.

It was one result but it was not just one game. England have beaten the Wallabies twice in succession without having to rely scrum superiority.

England could - and possibly should - have beaten France in Paris and New Zealand at Twickenham earlier this month. On both occasions Johnson pointed towards the positive strides his team were taking.

Those words have now been backed up by two encouraging results against the Wallabies and the blossoming of a handful of rookie players into potential top-class internationals.

Ben Youngs, 21, was named man of the match for his performance against the Wallabies but England had eight players in that starting XV who were aged 25 or under.

Johnson insists he has always known but it took him the best part of two years, and a few hard-hitting honesty sessions from the players, for England to discover their identity.

Miserable performances against Argentina last autumn, Italy and then Scotland in the Six Nations prompted a change in approach which coincided neatly with the arrival of players like Youngs, Dan Cole and Ben Foden.

They all have talent but what Johnson looks for is more than natural ability, as Danny Cipriani discovered. Character is almost more valuable because it cannot be coached.

And Johnson believes the ethos of his squad will stand England in good stead both against the Samoans and in the 10-month build-up to the World Cup.

"The guys who have come into the team have developed really well. I knew we could be a better team than sometimes we've shown over the last 18 months," said Johnson.

"People have to have the right character, you can't play at this level without a huge amount of that. You need moral courage to play Test rugby.

"I didn't discover them. What did Bill Shankly say? 'Managers don't make players, parents do'.

"Shankly was a God in my house when I was growing up. People's character - what they are - isn't defined by us. We can help with rugby stuff but they have to mature and enjoy winning.

"Ultimately they have to be able to handle and understand what it takes to be a Test rugby player and to play in a team. We've tried to be consistent and create an England team.

"You need to see 10 to a dozen players and say: 'That's the England team'. The guys have to take that responsibility on and live up to it and I think we're getting there now with selection."

Johnson has made only four changes from the Australia game, handing flanker Hendre Fourie his first Test start and Matt Banahan a chance at outside centre.

Bath prop David Wilson has come in for Dan Cole while James Haskell will get his first run of the autumn at blindside flanker.

"We need to have the edge we had last week about us. We need to manufacture that this week because Samoa are perfectly capable of coming to Twickenham and winning a Test match," said Johnson.

"They could have won last week in Dublin. They are very, very dangerous."