Monday 18 December 2017

We will thrive under pressure -- Johnson

Mick Cleary

England arrived in Dublin last night in search of the same air of defiance that almost caused a diplomatic incident eight years ago -- when Martin Johnson refused to move along the ceremonial red carpet before kick-off to satisfy Irish sensibilities.

Captain then, manager now, Johnson sets great store in character when it comes to coping with adversity. The Grand Slam and World Cup-winning side of 2003 had it in spades; Johnson believes this generation of England players are well on the way to acquiring it as they tilt for their own Grand Slam.

In a perverse way, the loss to injury of captain Mike Tindall might provide an added spur as others rally round to make up for any deficiencies on Saturday.

"Captaincy does come into it," said Johnson, as he announced that Bath's Matt Banahan would replace Tindall in the centre with Harlequins' No 8 Nick Easter taking the reins, as he did against Scotland last weekend. David Strettle comes on to the bench.

"The edge in this game will be good for us," said Johnson. "England play better in the bigger games. It's going to be tense. But we need a bit of angst there. It suits us. Every game this season seems bigger than the last. That's good. You want to go out in a big finale. You want to go out with a big win."

Johnson is all too aware that a lot of things have to fall England's way if that is to happen. If nothing else they have much to make up in midfield as two novices, Banahan and Shontayne Hape, square up against one of the world's most tried-and-tested pairings in Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.

Johnson's very presence is going to be a factor over the next 48 hours, an antidote to the pressure that a relatively inexperienced team might feel once the magnitude of what awaits them at the Aviva Stadium hits.

"Having Johnno there is like having another captain," said wing Chris Ashton.

Recent history is with Ireland. Johnson is not one of those who sees a waning of powers in their talismanic captain O'Driscoll.

"I've no doubt that he's still world class, a great finisher if you let him get near the line," said Johnson. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

England (v Ireland) -- B Foden; C Ashton, M Banahan, S Hape, M Cueto; T Flood, B Youngs; A Corbisiero, D Hartley, D Cole; L Deacon, T Palmer; T Wood, J Haskell, N Easter (capt).

Reps: S Thompson, P Doran-Jones, S Shaw, T Croft, D Care, J Wilkinson, D Strettle.

Irish Independent

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