Johnson wary of All Black backlash


BAGSHOT, November 2 – England manager Martin Johnson on Tuesday dismissed suggestions New Zealand may be ripe for the taking after their shattering Bledisloe Cup defeat to Australia.
Johnson’s England team take on the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday having been given a blueprint on how to beat the Tri-Nations champions by the Wallabies in Hong Kong last weekend.

But Johnson brushed off the theory that the New Zealanders last-gasp defeat may have left the world’s number one ranked team mentally vulnerable as they head into this weekend’s showdown.

"New Zealand are a pretty mature team. They will see the mistakes they made, players have got to get it right for 80 minutes. I don’t think it will affect their self-belief," Johnson said.

"It was an intense game. When you are playing against the top sides in the world, mistakes get punished."

"Margins are tight, Australia have got better as they have gone through the season, they won with the last kick of the game but that’s the nature of it."

Johnson was speaking after naming an England line-up showing only one change from the starting XV which defeated Australia in Sydney in June, powerhouse prop Andrew Sheridan returning from injury at loosehead.

"He is a very strong player and we feel we can get more out of Andy," Johnson said. "He has done pretty well but has not played for a long time for us due to injury. They are a big unit so it’s going to be a big challenge."

Johnson also warned that England would be punished by New Zealand if they lost concentration.

"We need to be calm on the field," he said. "We cannot be headless. If you do that they will pick you off."

Johnson is aware that England will have to hit the ground running against opponents who are match-hardened by last weekend’s Test.

"They have had a game but they have also had to travel. We have had two weeks of preparations. Now we’ve got to get on the field and do it.

As expected, Bath flanker Lewis Moody was named as captain after proving his recovery from a serious eye injury for Bath last weekend.

In the second row, Johnson has stuck to the pairing of Courtney Lawes and Stade Francais’s Tom Palmer at lock.

Injuries to Jonny Wilkinson and Riki Flutey mean Johnson has retained the midfield line-up which fared well down under, with Toby Flood at fly-half and New Zealand-born Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall partnering in the centre.

The outstanding young scrum-half Ben Youngs — bidding to follow in the footsteps of father Nick who was part of the England team which defeated New Zealand at Twickenham in 1983 — joins Flood at halfback.

Mark Cueto of Sale and Chris Ashton of Northampton Saints are the wings in a back three completed by fullback Ben Foden, the standout discovery last year.

England (15-1)

Ben Foden (Northampton Saints); Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints), Mike Tindall (Gloucester), Shontayne Hape (Bath), Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks); Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers); Nick Easter (Harlequins), Lewis Moody (Bath, captain), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers); Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints); Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Steve Thompson (Leeds Carnegie), Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks)

Replacements: Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), David Wilson (Bath), Dave Attwood (Gloucester), Hendrie Fourie (Leeds), Danny Care (Harlequins), Charlie Hodgson (Sale Sharks), Delon Armitage (London Irish).