Johnson quick to play down hype ahead of Boks clash
How times change. Three weeks ago, England spent the first 25 minutes of their autumn campaign living up to levels of expectation that were located somewhere near the earth's core.
Suddenly, after a gutsy comeback against the All Blacks, a supercharged shellacking of the Wallabies and a follow-up victory over Samoa -- only the third time in the two and a half years of Martin Johnson's stewardship that consecutive games have been won -- they find themselves besieged by optimists. Talk about boom and bust.
Johnson has always been suspicious of public perception, and yesterday, on the eve of what promises to be a humdinger of a contest with a herd of Springboks fighting both for their own reputations and for the future of Peter de Villiers' coaching regime, he reached for the damp towel.
"We're on the right track, but we haven't done anything yet," the manager said. "There's so much rubbish being talked. We weren't as bad as some people tried to make out a few months ago, and we're not as good as some people are trying to make out now."
If the very last part of Johnson's address was accurate, a third straight success this afternoon will leave the Twickenham crowd even less in touch with reality than they have been over the past fortnight. They will see victory as a signifier of immediate riches to come.
And they will be mistaken. England should beat the reigning world champions today, not least because the tourists are missing almost half a team: the wings J P Pietersen and Bryan Habana, centre Jaque Fourie, scrum-half Fourie du Preez, flanker Schalk Burger and long-serving captain John Smit. What England will not do, unless hell freezes over, is stick 50 points on them, as their forerunners did in 2002. They know it, too.
According to the few people on the planet who understand how the International Rugby Board rankings work, Johnson's team could end the Autumn Tests in second -- quite a leap from the eighth place they occupied during the dark days of last year.
There are, for all that, certain fixed points in this ever-changing game, and Springbok aggression is one of them. If England can withstand that today and find a way to win, the manager will need more than a towel to dampen the expectation. (© Telegraph, London)
England -- B Foden; C Ashton, M Tindall, S Hape, M Cueto; T Flood, B Youngs; A Sheridan, D Hartley, D Cole; C Lawes, T Palmer; T Croft, L Moody (capt), N Easter. Reps: S Thompson, D Wilson, S Shaw, H Fourie, D Care, C Hodgson, M Banahan.
South Africa -- Z Kirchner; G Aplon, F Steyn, J de Villiers, L Mvovo; M Steyn, R Pienaar; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis; B Botha, V Matfield (capt), D Stegmann, J Smith, P Spies. Reps: A Strauss, CJ van der Linde, F van der Merwe, W Alberts, F Hougaard, P Lambie, A Jacobs.
Ref -- G Clancy (Ireland).
England v South Africa,
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