AND manager Martin Johnson has dismissed fears that the woeful performance of English clubs in the Heineken Cup could have a knock-on effect for his squad at the Six Nations Championship.
Northampton are the sole Premiership side to have reached the knockout stages of Europe’s top competition, with six others falling by the wayside.
But Johnson, who bullishly declared this squad his best yet, is adamant that those players eliminated will put aside their disappointment to help England win a first title for seven years.
“In an ideal world we’d have three or four teams there because it is good for the players, but we haven’t,” said Johnson.
“Some guys have come into camp disappointed from the weekend but they get into England mode very quickly and they are happy to be back together as a group. Last year the French clubs didn’t have a particularly good time of it in Europe but the Six Nations games were very close. This year they will be very close.”
Johnson has failed to convince some critics since taking charge in 2008, and was not helped by a miserable autumn campaign. With just six wins from 14 Tests there is room for improvement but, with key players Delon Armitage, Riki Flutey and Toby Flood back, he is confident the current crop are up to the task.
“We are starting to add a bit of depth to our group, more than ever before,” he said. “This is the best squad we have had in my time being in charge and it will only get stronger.
“We have a good leadership group and it’s the strength of any side that you have three, four or five guys who could be captain. With guys like Jonny Wilkinson, Lewis Moody, Nick Easter and Simon Shaw we are starting to have a core group of leaders.”