Johnson hunting revenge

England boss desperate to beat France
’We want to be in the headlines’, he says

ENGLAND manager Martin Johnson last night urged his side to hog the back-page headlines by triumphing in tomorrow’s potentially decisive RBS 6 Nations showdown with France.

Johnson is still hurting from last year’s 12-10 defeat to Les Bleus in Paris, when his embryonic young team paid for a lack of ruthlessness, and considers it the most painful loss of his tenure.

But following an encouraging autumn and a 100 per cent start to the championship he is convinced a much-improved Red Rose outfit are ready to avenge that pride-denting setback.

And after naming just one change to the side that thrashed Italy two weeks ago – the return of prop Andrew Sheridan – he called on England to beat their old enemies and justify their burgeoning reputation.

“We will go out and give it an absolute crack. The good thing with these lads is they will go out and play,” Johnson said.

“Over the last 18 months we have had a group of young players who have forced their way into the team, they have had their opportunities to play and taken them. The form and consistency has improved and you start getting some of the good things that happened last week and the week before.

“France have a very good all-round game and are dangerous but we back ourselves as well. You want to be in the headlines and hopefully we can do that with our performance on Saturday.”

Johnson is mindful of the threat posed by a powerful French pack, in particular tighthead Nicolas Mas, and is relieved to be able to select fit-again Sale loosehead Sheridan.

“It is pretty clear when you look at what was happening last year, we have to be very strong on our loosehead side,” Johnson said.

“Mas likes to get into that gap and put a lot of pressure through there. We have to stop him. We know it’s coming. We have got to be up to it. Sheridan is strong and powerful and he stands up in the toughest physical challenges in world rugby.”

France, too, have won both of their games so far, prompting predictions that whoever prevails at Twickenham will go on to lift the trophy. Les Bleus enjoyed that privilege 12 months ago, thanks to that win over England, which still burns within Johnson.

“It was a very, very disappointing game to lose when you think what we did in their
stadium, against the Grand Slam champions,” he said.

“It was my most disappointing defeat. Afterwards, the players are back at their clubs and
we are sitting there thinking ‘if only’. Once it is done on Monday morning it is a quiet place. Who says I am over it?”

THREE KICKS TO THE GAULS

Twickenham 1991: Having been distinctly second best to the French throughout the 80s, England had the chance to turn the tables at the start of the 90s. France scored arguably the greatest try the tournament has ever seen, started by Serge Blanco on his own try line and finished by Didier Camberabero, but England clinched the Grand Slam under the captaincy of Will Carling with a thrilling 21-19 win.

Sydney 2003: England had swept all before them on their way to the Grand Slam eight months earlier and were strong favourites to win the World Cup. France and torrential rain stood between Sir Clive Woodward’s men and a place in the final against Australia. England’s pack mastered the conditions better than their opponents, for whom talismanic fly-half Frederic Michalak had something of a mare, as Jonny Wilkinson (above) kept his nerve to kick all of his side’s points in a 24-7 win.

Paris 2007: Four years after they failed to turn up in Sydney, France had their shot at revenge on home soil. England hit the ground running after a moment of hesitation from Damien Traille allowed Josh Lewsey to nip in for a second minute try, the boot of Lionel Beauxis looked like it had put the hosts into the final. But a Wilkinson penalty in the 75th minute and a trademark drop goal three minutes later time crushed French dreams.