Johnson's side to use Irish 'hurt'
Published 13/03/2010 | 05:00
England dispensed with the traditional eve-of-match captain's run-out at the stadium yesterday and flew up to Edinburgh in the afternoon, their main preparations all conducted back at base in Surrey. A few of the team walked round the ground late in the day. There was little need for a reconnaissance mission. England know what to expect at Murrayfield: a hostile reception and the fury of the damned.
Scotland are floundering themselves, with three clanging zeroes in the credit column, but that will only spur them to more frenzied effort. There is a scalp to be gained and humiliation to be avoided. There will be venom in every tackle, bite in every engagement, fury in every chase. England are on familiar terrain: no one loves them away from Twickenham and, no, they don't care.
England will have packed their overnight bags carefully, storing away "the hurt", as Martin Johnson put it, of the loss to Ireland. That desolate feeling is an aide-memoire: defeat sucks. Any repeat, for example, of the slipshod defending seen at Twickenham and England will be doomed, so too the careers of several of those involved.
"The team need to have that hurt bottled up, to have the right conscience and the right response," said Johnson, who has never lost to Scotland. "You don't want to be sat in a losing dressing-room again. It'll be a tough Saturday evening if we lose up there. Being in a hostile environment is what you get into Test rugby for, much better than a quiet one.
"That ferocity will be there. It always is away from home. The Scots will want to come off to cheers and a big win against England, while we want to come off to relative quiet and a third win in the championship. That's the nub of the battle."
A lot of the emotional froth will disappear once Marius Jonker's whistle sounds. Of far more concern to England will be their ability to deal with what Andy Robinson, the Scotland head coach, has in store for them. We can take the passion for granted. As was seen in the early stages in Cardiff, Robinson's team will play with precision and cleverness. Scotland were nigh on faultless in the first half against Wales, their slick-heeled back row roaming free and causing all sorts of mischief.
If you want one good reason why Joe Worsley has been preferred to Lewis Moody, it lies in stopping the 'Killer Bs' -- Kelly Brown, John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie. Worsley is England's hit man. He must take out Scotland's back row ruthlessly, as ordered by il capo di tutti himself, Godfather Johnson.
If he fails, then England will be in trouble. If Worsley succeeds, then England have the chance to show that they can attack with pace and intelligence themselves. Johnson has shown great loyalty to the back line, investing in continuity. "We're backing our guys to perform," he said.
As they grow used to each other, so should fluency and understanding improve. Jonny Wilkinson has not just to get more from himself, he has to draw significant deeds from those alongside, Riki Flutey and Mathew Tait.
There is also pressure on the back three to deliver, no one more so than Delon Armitage. The London Irish full-back has been picked on faith rather than form. England evidently do not yet trust the high-ball defensive skills of Northampton's Ben Foden, but Armitage has been more jellyfish than rock at times. He has it within him to make good. Now is the time for him to recapture the zest and reliability of last year.
Foden is on the bench, and England look to have an edge there. Ben Youngs, the uncapped 20-year-old Leicester scrum-half, might get a show. It is certainly time Toby Flood did. He has been left kicking his heels twice this season.
Scotland look strait-laced across the back line, although the wings, Max Evans and Sean Lamont, might have something to say in disputing that. Scoring tries, though, has not been a Scottish trait this season, their heroics at the Millennium Stadium notwithstanding. Injury has blunted their strike-force.
However, their pack are solid, their back row shrewd and lively, and their half-backs have the ability to navigate their way through bandit country.
England have it within them to win in Edinburgh for the first time in six years. But they have to control the tempo by negating Scotland's back row. If they fail to do that, Scotland will come through. England will want to avoid the Murrayfield hurt locker. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Scotland -- H Southwell, S Lamont, N De Luca, G Morrison, M Evans, D Parks, C Cusiter (capt); A Jacobsen, R Ford, E Murray, J Hamilton, A Kellock, K Brown, J Barclay, J Beattie. Replacements: S Lawson, G Cross, N Hines, A MacDonald, R Lawson, P Godman, S Danielli.
England -- D Armitage, M Cueto, M Tait, R Flutey, U Monye, J Wilkinson, D Care; T Payne, D Hartley, D Cole, L Deacon, S Borthwick (capt), J Haskell, J Worsley, N Easter. Replacements: S Thompson, D Wilson, C Lawes, L Moody, B Youngs, T Flood, Ben Foden.
Ref -- M Jonker (South Africa).
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