Tuesday 12 December 2017

Johnson demands no let-up

Mick Cleary

Martin Johnson dismissed suggestions yesterday that his side may take victory over Scotland tomorrow for granted.

"No, they won't," the England manager said curtly, announcing just one change in his starting line-up, prop Alex Corbisiero replacing the injured Andrew Sheridan, with Tom Croft coming in on the bench.

"Anything we've got so far, we've earned. Nothing has come cheaply. It's not been difficult to keep everyone's feet on the ground. Words such as 'luxury' and 'comfort' don't exist at international level. You've got to fight and battle for everything. We've got to bring the juice we brought to the Italy game. Nobody else can do it for us."

Johnson has even taken to citing military lore when emphasising to his squad the need to be on alert. "No plan survives first contact with the enemy," said England's commander-in-chief.

Scotland will need more than 'Braveheart' rallying cries to induce anxiety into English ranks. They can paint their faces but they cannot disguise their deficiencies. Played three, lost three -- a statistical death knell.

There was a time when the passion of the Celt might have been feared. But England have already shown they can deal with inflamed emotions and hostile backdrops.

Their performance in Cardiff on the opening night of the championship was a masterclass in sangfroid. True, there were flaws in England's game, but there was no sign of panic. They trusted each other to do a job and the outcome was a significant away victory.

Even if this match was at Murrayfield, you sense that England would not be unduly perturbed. They are hitting consistent levels of performance, no matter the circumstances. "Our best now is better than our best was a year ago," said Johnson, mindful that England slogged to a 15-15 draw against Scotland 12 months ago.

In this championship England have dealt with Welsh hwyl, Italian timidity and French fury. And now? Scottish what exactly? Andy Robinson's team might cause the occasional flutter, but only if they get some decent ball. They lack real menace in their strike-runners, wing Max Evans apart.

They have chopped and changed their half-backs to no great effect. Ruaridh Jackson is the preferred No 10, suggesting that Scotland will look to play with ball in hand.

But how much ball will they get? Their scrum has had its difficulties while England's line-out has proved adept at disrupting opponents and at safeguarding its own supply lines. England have lost only three line-outs on their own throw in three matches, a high-quality return.


Scotland have shown sporadic glimpses of multi-phase attack. Three tries were scored against France and there was a late rally against Ireland. But in both matches, the game was almost beyond them. Scotland had no option but to go for broke. If they do not get their act together from first whistle at Twickenham, they will be doomed.

Scotland have shed tries early in several recent matches, Jackson proving a defensive liability. England will need no second bidding.

Wing Chris Ashton was muted against France after scoring six tries in the opening two games. You fancy he will not be so shackled tomorrow. A championship try-scoring record is in the offing. And if not Ashton, others await. England are primed for attack, not containment.

England have to do to Scotland as they did to Italy if they are to keep moving their game forward. There has to be thrust in their attack, cleverness in their build-up and ruthlessness in their execution. If they achieve that, it would be fitting not only to talk of Grand Slams but also of troubling the southern hemisphere superpowers at the World Cup.

Johnson, of course, has no truck with such presumptuous talk. But this is another test of England's status. They have to show that they can deal with the burden of being favourites without getting fretful.

England are as settled as they have been for several years, 14 of the side lining up for the fourth game in succession. Croft has to make do with a place on the bench on his return. "You've got to fight to get into this side," said Johnson.

Scotland have won only four times in 100 years at Twickenham. There is no reason to think that such a dismal record will improve this weekend. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Verdict: England

England -- B Foden; C Ashton, M Tindall (capt), S Hape, M Cueto; T Flood, B Youngs; A Corbisiero, D Hartley, D Cole; L Deacon, T Palmer; T Wood, J Haskell, N Easter. Reps: S Thompson, P Doran-Jones, S Shaw, T Croft, D Care, J Wilkinson, M Banahan.

Scotland -- C Paterson; S Danielli, J Ansbro, S Lamont, M Evans; R Jackson, R Lawson; A Jacobsen, R Ford, M Low; R Gray, A Kellock (capt); N Hines, J Barclay, K Brown. Reps: S Lawson, G Cross, R Vernon, A Strokosch, M Blair, D Parks, N De Luca.

REF -- R Poite (France).

England v Scotland,

Live, BBC 2 / RTE 2, tomorrow, 3.0

Irish Independent

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