RBS 6 NATIONS
ENGLAND manager Martin Johnson has told his team to forget the fact they are overwhelming favourites for tomorrow’s RBS 6 Nations clash with Italy and show no mercy when the perennial wooden spoon recipients visit Twickenham.
Johnson was far from satisfied with his side’s performance in last week’s championship opener against Wales, despite leaving the bear pit of the Millennium Stadium with a hard-fought victory.
And last night he warned the same starting XV that they cannot afford to let their guard down against an improving Italy side who he believes were robbed of a deserved first-round win by Ireland.
“There was a big build-up to that game last week, and this is not seen as the biggest game of the week, but they are the only team that can beat us this week,” said Johnson.
“Right from the first meeting on Monday we have spoken about things we did well and things we can improve on. We had plenty of chances to score tries and finish the game off last week. We had one near the end that would have killed the game off and we didn’t get in, so we spoke a bit about that.
“Our No1 [priority] is a win, No2 is no serious injuries and No3 is a good game. We know what
they’re about. They’re a good team and a real challenge.”
Johnson has stuck with the same team that beat Wales, with Tom Wood (inset) retained at blindside flanker after impressing on debut – not that his manager was in any mood to shower him with more praise.
“The lad did okay on Friday,” Johnson said. “There are lots of bits we need to get better at, things that we talked about after the game.”
Only a late drop goal from replacement fly-half Ronan O’Gara denied Italy a famous win over Ireland in an attritional contest in Rome, and Johnson took note.
“You have the same conversation when you play Italy, they are tough games,” he added. “They should have won last week. They can play. They keep hold of the ball and put you under pressure. They do that well and we are under no illusions that this is the toughest test we can play this week. People say we didn’t play well against them last year but they are a good side and they are a different challenge.”
The clash will pitch rival Leicester props Dan Cole and Martin Castrogiovanni into battle against each other. Both are strong in the scrum but stats from the Amlin Opta Index, which uses Heineken Cup data, show that the Italian is a far more prolific ball carrier, while Cole has a slight edge when it comes to tackling.