Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - Page 20 News List

Johnson warns Wallabies of England’s rude health

AFP , LONDON

Martin Johnson said England were in rude health ahead of their end-of-season tour Down Under. After serving up disappointing fare in their first four Six Nations matches, England finished on a high with a spirited and much-improved performance in the 12-10 defeat by eventual Grand Slam winners France in Paris.

Up-and-coming talents such as prop Dan Cole, scrum-half Ben Youngs, wing Chris Ashton and full-back Ben Foden were given chances in the tournament and they all took them with both hands, leaving Johnson with plenty of options at his disposal in most departments in his team.

Johnson said the build-up to next year’s World Cup in New Zealand begins this June with his team’s five-match trip to the southern hemisphere, which takes in a pair of Tests with the Wallabies, two further midweek fixtures and a tour-ending game against the New Zealand Maori in Napier.

Despite being criticized for only finishing third in the Six Nations, Johnson believes England are in great shape.

“We have a good foundation for the summer tour and heading into the autumn [November] series,” England’s 2003 World Cup-winning captain told reporters at Twickenham on Wednesday. “Now some of these players understand what it means to be a Test-match player, the work involved, not just in Test week, but also the preparation required.”

Johnson said the criticism of his side, who won just two of their five Six Nations matches this season and lost to both Australia and New Zealand in November, has served only to strengthen the resolve of England’s players and coaching staff.

“The trust between the coaches and players is better than it ever has been,” said Johnson, who confirmed there would be no changes to his under-fire coaching staff prior to the forthcoming tour.

England’s recent record against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa is not great — since 2004, they have won just four of 24 matches against the three southern-hemisphere powers although one of those was their 2007 World Cup quarter-­final victory over the Wallabies.

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