We spoke to Martin Johnson at today’s RBS Six Nations launch in London, and although he didn’t give much away as usual, it’s always interesting to hear the great man speak about the England camp. I’ve recounted our conversation below, and I’ve also included my own inner dialogue in italics, which reveals some thoughts to which I was too afraid to give voice.
How has the training been going in Portugal?
The training is going well. The guys are a bit bruised and battered after a tough weekend in the Heineken Cup, but it’s going really well. The new guys are all settling in nicely. Guys like Shontayne, and Chris Ashton has had a great two days.
Er, why bother taking him all the way to Portugal for two days?
But you’ve released him back to Northampton for this weekend.
Yes, he’s going back to play for his club. He was only called in as contingency, but he’ll come back to us on Sunday night and will be in contention for selection next week. It’s great to have him around and he’s got a very big future.
So there is a chance that he’ll feature against Wales, but I doubt it.
There is only one English team through to the Heineken Cup knockout stages – do you think this will have a bearing on the Six Nations?
The Heineken Cup is very very different. I don’t think it matters that we’ve only got one team through, and I don’t think we can read anything into it. In an ideal world, we’d have three or four teams through, but that’s just the way it is.
In an ideal world? So it is important then?
You are getting a few players back from injury now – how is the squad shaping up?
Yeah, we’ve got a really great squad and we’re in a strong position. The injuries we had last year meant that we had to bring new people in, and now we’ve got great depth in a lot of places. There is competition throughout and that’s what you need.
We still have some injury problems. Joe (Worsley) is out for example, and I don’t see Andy Sheridan being fit to play a Test match before the end of the Six Nations.
That’s a blow for The Rugby Blog’s team selection. Looks like we’ve got Payne then.
You have three away games in this year’s tournament. Does that have a bearing on your preparation, or your confidence going into the event?
It’s always harder to win away games. Ireland was the only team to beat anyone in the top four away from home last year, and there is that extra psychological issue to overcome when you play away. We start at home though, and we’re looking for a good start and then who knows what will happen?
What would constitute success for England in this year’s campaign?
The team is very passionate about what we are trying to achieve and we’re just looking forward to the first game. Twickenham will be packed to the rafters when we play Wales, and it’s the centenary this year, and so we are just aiming to put in a really good performance from day 1.
Sorry Johnno, it doesn’t sound like you heard the question.
You only recently named Steve Borthwick as the captain. Was there a reason for delaying that announcement?
No. We always name our squad earlier than most countries, and there is no need to mention the captain at that stage. Steve has done an incredible job for us and will continue to do so. We have plenty of leaders in the team with people like Jonny Wilkinson, Nick Easter, Lewis Moody and Simon Shaw so leadership is not a problem.
That’s the theory. It would be nice to see some evidence of it on the field.
Thanks for your time Johnno, good luck.