Martin Johnson: 'That's not a bad way to go into next week. It will focus everyone's minds'
Johnson happy to see England tested ahead of Grand Slam crunch match in Dublin next week
Monday 14 March 2011
Martin Johnson has been this particular way before but in much grander fashion. Back in March 2003, in his days as England's captain and totem, he disappeared into the Twickenham tunnel with a Calcutta Cup win behind him, four Six Nations wins in total, and with a Grand Slam decider in Dublin to come. He did so on that occasion on the back of a 40-point dismissal of the Scots, featuring a flourish of four tries.
It was different yesterday, although as he reflected on his side's struggle to overcome a cussed, impressively organised Scotland side 22-16, and looked ahead to the final Grand Slam of Ireland at the new Lansdowne Road next Saturday, Johnson had a perverse smile of satisfaction on his furrowed features.
"It's not a bad game for us going into next week," he said, "when everyone's telling you how good you are. It can leak in a little bit. All the guys are pretty flat after the game, which is not a bad place when you've won four. I'm happier going to Dublin next week on the back of that game than scoring a lot of tries and having it too easy. It focuses everyone's mind.
"After we beat France everyone was saying, 'It's easy. You've just got to beat Scotland and Ireland now and you'll win it.' It's never like that. Scotland came here to fight for their lives and they did."
So they did but Andy Robinson's side failed to end Scotland's 28-year wait for a win at Red Rose HQ and will have to beat the Italians, on a high after their win against France in Rome on Saturday, if they are to avoid a whitewash and a wooden spoon.
Robinson, of course, was Clive Woodward's right-hand man when England completed their last Grand Slam in style in Dublin eight years ago, Johnson captaining them to a 42-6 victory that was a statement of intent ahead of the 2003 World Cup.
Whether England can complete a 2011 slam in similar fashion remains to be seen. They managed just the one try yesterday, courtesy of replacement flanker Tom Croft, and it took that score, 12 minutes from time, to get them into the winner's enclosure – with Scotland a man down after the contentious yellow carding of their openside flanker, John Barclay.
It was a victory that came at a cost on the personnel front. Mike Tindall managed to climb the West Stand steps to collect the Calcutta Cup from his future mother-in-law, the Princess Royal, but the captain had to be replaced at half-time. An ankle injury could keep him out of the decider.
"We'll see," Johnson said. "He's in a [medical] boot at the moment. He might have an x-ray. They don't think they'll find anything but they might just do it anyway."
The Scots suffered collateral damage too, No 8 Kelly Brown departing on a stretcher after taking a hit on the face from the shoulder of Tindall's replacement, the human battering ram that is Matt Banahan. "He's walking around now," Robinson reported. "He's started talking – through his nose."
According to Johnson, Scotland "had a yellow card coming" when Barclay was sent to the sin bin after trying to pluck the ball from Danny Care at a ruck, with 57 minutes on the clock and the scores tied at 9-9. "Obviously it was disappointing to lose John at that point," Robinson said. "I've had a good chat with the referee and talked through whether he was allowed to do that with his hand or his foot because a similar incident happened at the other end and Nick Easter kicked the ball out of a ruck."
Reflecting on his return to Twickenham on match duty for the first time since his time as England head coach ended in November 2006, Robinson added: "I'm really disappointed. There was a huge effort put in by the players. It was tremendous the way they went about the game. We've got a tough challenge now against Italy."
Asked whether his team deserved to be whitewashed, Robinson replied: "That can only be decided after our game next week. If you lose all five games, that's what you get."
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