Saturday 18 November 2017

Johnson takes no prisoners in demand for killer instinct

Peter Bills

Different times, different philosophies. The England that Italy take on today is a different animal to the inconsistent, self-satisfied creature that has dogged Martin Johnson's era as coach.

One look at Johnson's snarling expression at Cardiff last weekend told us that the gloves have come off regarding his England set-up.

This is bad news for the Italians, who arrive at Twickenham fully aware they could -- and should -- be riding the crest of a wave having beaten Ireland seven days ago.

There is a reason why Johnson and his colleagues have raised the bar this season. A wind of change is blowing through Twickenham.

A new CEO steeped in rugby knowledge has arrived. Clive Woodward is set to return in a senior role and 'achievement' has become the watchword. Johnson and his men know they will be judged in a harsh light.

Certain revelations made this week confirmed the point. At another time, Chris Ashton would have been deified for his two tries which helped beat Wales. But Ashton was excoriated for the exuberant dive for his first try. It annoyed England's old captain.


Fly-half Toby Flood spilled the beans. "There were lots of things he (Ashton) got a tongue-lashing for," said Flood. "There was the celebration, mouthing off to the ref and putting his hands in the ruck, so he had a good afternoon!"

Flood outlined the new mentality: "There were certain areas (in Cardiff) where we made poor decisions, little errors.

"We made mistakes. There were certainly areas of our game we are going to make huge strides and improvements on. The standard of the team now is so high, (but) we're a long way off where we want to be.

"The fundamentals the Italians give are very strong. We'll try to keep the game as open as possible and really challenge with our backs and our runners."

Johnson has announced an unchanged team, but Hendre Fourie is pressing James Haskell for the No 7 jersey.

Italy arrive with yet another new fly-half, Luca Orquera. He replaces Kris Burton, who goes back to the bench after only one game. Nick Mallett was probably furious after the Italians threw away a guilt-edged chance to beat Ireland for the first time. They will find it far harder today, especially if their hosts have truly adopted the new mentality that has taken over English rugby.

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

ITALY -- L McLean; A Masi, G Canale, A Sgarbi, M Bergamasco; L Orquera, P Canavosio; S Perugini, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni; C Del Fava, Q Geldenhuys; V Bernabo, A Zanni, S Parisse (capt) Reps: F Ongaro, A Lo Cicero, S Dellape, R Barbieri, F Semenzato, K Burton, G Garcia

Ref -- C Joubert (Rsa)

England v Italy,

Live, RTE2 & BBC1, 2.30

Irish Independent

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