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Johnno to resume role

EDINBURGH, March 12 – Martin Johnson was never on the losing side against Scotland as a player and, for England's team manager, this weekend would not be a good time to change the habits of a lifetime.
Johnson’s pedigree as a World Cup-winning captain and the only man to have skippered the British and Irish Lions on two tours ensured he came into his current role, almost two years ago, with a huge amount of credit in the bank.

But the negative reaction to last month’s 20-16 home defeat by Ireland, which ended England’s hopes of a Six Nations Grand Slam, suggests the extended honeymoon he has enjoyed in his current role may now be drawing to a close.

With Scotland having already lost to France, Wales and Italy, Johnson knows his players, particularly an under-performing back line with whom he has kept faith, have to deliver at Murrayfield on Saturday.

If they do, England will head for Paris the following weekend for what everyone expects to be a tournament decider against France.

If they don’t, Johnson can expect to be on the receiving end of the kind of robust treatment he used to dish out to opposing locks.

Scotland’s failure to win so far in the tournament has arguably masked a significant improvement in performance levels that has been engineered by one of Johnson’s predecessors as England coach, Andy Robinson.

With slightly better luck, Robinson’s squad might easily have beaten Wales and Italy and they will kick off world rugby’s oldest fixture bolstered by the knowledge that the last two Calcutta Cup matches to be played in Edinburgh ended in victories for the home side.

Within the squad, there is clearly a sense of what might have been and a determination to salvage something from a frustrating campaign, at the expense of England in the 127th meeting of the two countries (England lead 67-42 with 17 draws).

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"We feel we could have won two of the three games we’ve played this year but it’s not enough just to get ourselves into good positions," said Scotland captain, Chris Cusiter.

"We have to be more clinical. It is all about that extra bit of focus that will help us finish off the good work we have been doing."

While Johnson has retained the same back line that malfunctioned against Ireland, he has dropped one of his old team-mates, flanker Lewis Moody, to the bench and recalled Joe Worsley, who is deemed to be better defensively.

Scotland have recalled Nick de Luca at outside centre in the only change to the side beaten 16-12 by Italy in Rome. Max Evans has been switched to the left wing to accommodate De Luca’s introduction while Simon Danielli drops to the bench.

For Robinson, who was head coach Clive Woodward’s number two when Johnson got his hands on the World Cup seven years ago, it will be his first match against his native country and he echoed Cusiter’s confidence that Scotland are close to putting it all together.

"We’ve created chances, we’ve played some good rugby," Robinson said. "It is just a question of taking that next step and finishing off a game."

For England, the goal is obviously to win, but Johnson’s men also need to demonstrate they capable of unleashing their creative potential.

"We have shown glimpses of how good we can be," said scrum-half Danny Care.

"We have just lacked a clinical edge in finishing off the tries. We are working hard every day in training on that last finishing touch – and when it does click I think it will be something really special. Hopefully we can do that this weekend."

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