LONDON, August 12 – England manager Martin Johnson said Wednesday it "didn't get any tougher" than dropping former captain Steve Borthwick from his senior 32 man squad.But England’s 2003 World Cup captain insisted this was a sign of the "pressure" on his players and that "anyone who thinks they are comfortable in the England 32 won’t be there for very long".
And as if to prove his point that no-one could take their place for granted, Johnson refused to confirm Lewis Moody as his captain through to next year’s World Cup in New Zealand.
Back-row forward Moody was handed the captaincy after Borthwick’s knee injury meant the second row missed England’s tour of Australia.
That trip saw Moody become only the second England captain, after Johnson in 2003, to lead England to a Test win over the Wallabies on Australian soil courtesy of a 21-20 victory in Sydney in June.
But Johnson, speaking at a Twickenham training camp for both his senior and Saxons (A) squads, said: "I will not commit to (Moody being captain until the World Cup,
"There is big pressure on guys. Anyone who thinks they are comfortable in the England 32 won’t be there for very long.
"Guys are wondering how they are going to get in. It is very competitive and the best squad we have ever had."
As for telling Borthwick he was no longer one of his top four second rows, former lock Johnson said: "It doesn’t get any tougher.
"You like to think people get what they deserve and he didn’t get what he deserved.
"We had the conversation and Steve instantly said: ‘I’ll prove you wrong’. That is exactly what you want. He hasn’t whined about it, he hasn’t moaned about it."
He insisted Borthwick could play himself into contention despite the fine performances in Australia from the likes of Courtney Lawes and Tom Palmer.
"If you are playing better than the number one guy then there is never a time when you haven’t found yourself in the England team.
"Steve knows that and he is keen to get cracking."
England, beaten finalists in France three years ago, begin the World Cup against Argentina in Christchurch on September 10 next year.
They announced on Wednesday that their final warm-up matches would take place next August against Wales, home and away on August 6 and 13, followed by a clash with Ireland in Dublin on August 27.
But before then they face a gruelling programme of internationals in November, with New Zealand, Australia, Samoa and world champions South Africa all visiting Twickenham on successive weekends.
Then comes the Six Nations, never mind a heavy duty club campaign.
"There won’t be much pause for breath between now and then," said Johnson.
"We talk about the progression to the World Cup being lots of little steps but we took a big one with the win in Australia.
"There are small margins between winning and losing but to actually get on the right side of it and hold onto it and get the win is a pretty big step.
"We need to step up from that in the autumn series. We play the All Blacks in the first Test (on November 6) and we have got to be in that from the first minute.
"There has never been a bad All Blacks side. The win was a big step but we have got to follow it up and improve next time we play."