Sat, Mar 19, 2011 - Page 18 News List

Johnson wary of angry Ireland

AFP, DUBLIN

England’s Tom Croft, top, scores a try against Scotland during their Six Nations match at Twickenham in southwest London on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Martin Johnson believes England will need to overcome an Ireland side bristling with anger as his team attempts to win their first Grand Slam in eight years today.

Johnson, who captained England to their last Grand Slam in 2003, returns to Lansdowne Road this weekend as manager of a team who finally look capable of ending their long wait for a Six Nations crown, but he believes a fiercely proud Ireland will be desperate to wreck England’s Grand Slam dream after a lackluster season comprising two unconvincing wins and two disappointing defeats.

Ireland are also nursing a grievance after last weekend’s 19-13 defeat in Cardiff, when a refereeing blunder allowed Wales to score what turned out to be the decisive try of the match.

Johnson acknowledged that the circumstances of the defeat at the Millennium Stadium could provide potent motivation for Ireland.

“I think you’d be feeling that anger as a team,” Johnson said. “It’s a pretty powerful thing when teams are like that. It makes them very dangerous.”

In all probability, even a defeat on Saturday will probably be enough to give England their first Six Nations crown since 2003. Their hefty points-for advantage means that Wales would need to score a big win over France in Paris to have any chance of snatching the title.

England’s preparations suffered a blow when captain Mike Tindall was ruled out after failing to recover from an ankle injury sustained in last Sunday’s unconvincing 22-16 win over Scotland at Twickenham. The loss of Tindall deprives England of their sole survivor from the 2003 Grand Slam triumph in Dublin, although Johnson has two veterans of that win — Jonny Wilkinson and Steve Thompson — on the bench.


No. 8 Nick Easter will lead England in Tindall’s absence, while the captain’s outside-center spot goes to the powerful Bath No. 13 Matt Banahan.

Johnson insists the relative inexperience of England’s lineup could be a strength as they chase victory at a venue where they have not won since 2003.

“I said to the boys: ‘It’s a great week, let’s enjoy it.’ It’s good for it to be tense,” he said.

Ireland, who have made three changes to the team that started against Wales, including one positional, are hoping to exploit any possible signs of jitters.

“They will have some nerves, like you would for any Grand Slam game, and it’s our job to try to bring those nerves out and compound them,” Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll said.

“If you see a potential frailty, you have to go after that,” added O’Driscoll, who will equal John Smit’s record of 76 Test matches as captain.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has recalled Jonathan Sexton at flyhalf ahead of veteran Ronan O’Gara and Luke Fitzgerald has been dropped at fullback to be replaced by Keith Earls, whose place on the left wing goes to Andrew Trimble.

FRANCE V WALES

AFP, PARIS

France captain Thierry Dusautoir worked hard to earn the nickname “Dark Destroyer” and today he will be determined to produce a performance worthy of the moniker and help his side bow out of this year’s Six Nations with a victory over Wales.

Victory for the 29-year-old Toulouse flanker — who sprang to prominence when he produced an astonishing 29 tackles in France’s stunning 2007 World Cup quarter-final victory over New Zealand — and the team would earn themselves some form of redemption after their historic Six Nations defeat by Italy last weekend.

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