We spoke to Martin Johnson at Twickenham yesterday, where the England elite player squad had gathered, and he spoke of England’s ambition to match the standard of rugby currently being set by South Africa.
Johnno spoke of the intensity of the Springboks’ gameplan during the Lions series and their three Tri-Nations encounters so far this summer.
“South Africa have their noses ahead at the moment. They are playing effective and efficient rugby, and we have to match that. They are extremely physical, and they take their chances when they come.”
The boot of Morne Steyn has been something of a revelation for South Africa, and his ability to score three points from almost anywhere in the opposition half, leaves Johnno yearning for the return to fitness of Jonny Wilkinson, who was training with the squad at Twickenham this week.
The England boss was optimistic about the coming season for England. “If you look at where we were this time last year, we’ve come a long way. Last year, everything was new and we were finding our feet, but now we have a lot more experience.”
“Look at Ugo Monye – he was in the Saxons last summer and now he’s played Test rugby for the British and Irish Lions. Tom Croft, what a season he has had. Riki Flutey, Delon Armitage – these guys are now experienced players, whereas last year they were new to the setup.”
Johnno also explained how he has been building relationships with the French clubs, where several of his players are now based. He has built bridges with Brive, who last year refused to release Andy Goode for an extra week’s training, and has been in contact with Stade Francais about James Haskell.
The England legend isn’t one to show how excited he is, but I’m convinced that there was a twinkle in his eye about the prospect of the new season. England face Australia, Argentina and New Zealand this Autumn, and the progress of the team will be fascinating to watch. None of those games will be easy, but they are all winnable, and the nation’s fingers are crossed that Johnno’s men can get somewhere near the standard set by the World Champions.
There will be more from Johnno, as well as other England stars like Mike Tindall and Dan Hipkiss, in the next edition of The Rugby Blog podcast, due to be published at the end of this month.