Johnson issues rallying cry as the Grand Slam beckons

RBS 6 NATIONS

ENGLAND manager Martin Johnson believes his emerging side are primed to deliver a “big finale” to their RBS 6 Nations campaign and clinch the Grand Slam with victory over Ireland.

Johnson was Red Rose skipper the last time England claimed a clean sweep in the tournament back in 2003 with a crushing win over Ireland which preceded their World Cup winning campaign Down Under.

Now England boss, Johnson has a chance to become only the sixth man to win a Grand Slam as a player and a coach.

“The guys have had nine games this season and every one seems to have been bigger than the last,” Johnson said.

“That’s great. We want to go out with a big finale and a big win. We know what’s at stake and that’s great. We’ve worked hard to get there and we think we deserve to be here.

“We all know it’s an opportunity to win a Grand Slam but if we start badly for the first 10 minutes that will feel a long way away.

“Contrary to popular belief we never banned anything in this squad, certainly not talking about Grand Slams. We couldn’t win the Grand Slam in any other game, but we can in this one.”

After an uneasy start to life as England manager, Johnson has grown into the role over the past year and is getting the best out of a young group of exciting talents such as Chris Ashton, Ben Foden and Ben Youngs.

Despite the success he is now enjoying in a coaching capacity, the World Cup winning skipper admits he still misses the thrill of playing in the biggest of matches.

“You want to play don’t you?” he said. “When it’s a question of playing a game for a Grand Slam the best place to be is on the field, I’ll guarantee you that.

“We’re doing what we’re doing and enjoying the rewards for the hard work we’re putting in.”

Johnson has been forced into making one change for tomorrow’s crunch showdown with Bath’s Matt Banahan replacing Mike Tindall .

The 6ft 7in Jerseyman starts at outside centre for only the second time in a Test match after England skipper Tindall damaged ankle ligaments in last weekend’s 22-16 victory over Scotland.

Harlequins number eight Nick Easter takes over as captain, as he did in the second half of the Calcutta Cup game, and Saracens wing David Strettle comes onto the bench.

Leicester flanker Tom Croft remains among the replacements, despite marking his comeback from a shoulder injury with a try against Scotland.