MARTIN JOHNSON believes that England are one mistake away from seeing their Grand Slam dreams crushed at Twickenham next Saturday. Not since Johnson was a player – back in 2003 – have England completed a Six Nations clean sweep. And now they face the Grand Slam decider against France after beating both Wales and Italy.
‘Players have their responsibilities and if they drop off just one single play it could be costly,’ said Johnson who saw one lapse of concentration in defence against Ireland a year ago lead to an agonising 20-16 defeat at the home of English rugby.
‘We are going to have to be competitive at the break down. Defensively have to be strong with tackle technique important. Game management will have to be spot on against France.
‘There is going to be a huge level of intensity at Twickenham, the same as it was against Wales. We’re going to have to perform with real intensity.
‘Last Sunday’s game between Ireland and France was pretty ferocious. France handled it and won the game pretty well.
‘We’re going to have to take our chances when they come and also defend very well. We will come under attack and will need to be ready for whatever comes at us.
‘We all play the game to get the crowd on their feet and excited.’
England only conceded one try against Italy in the 59-13 victory, but it was one try too many as far as Johnson is concerned
‘Our game management has been pretty good of late. We were down to 14 men in Cardiff and handled it ok.
‘We allowed Italy to score an easy try against us which wasn’t good. We can’t have teams scoring that easily against us.’
Against Italy, Chris Ashton became the first Englishman for 97 years to score four tries in a Championship match and Johnson believes he will be a marked man against France.
‘Chris has brought something a little bit different to the team,’ said Ashton. ‘He could possibly get blocked more making his runs? Mark Cueto felt he got done last week. Teams will do what they feel they have to do to stop him.
‘Chris has learned a lot from Mark Cueto who has been so consistent in his performances for the national side. Mark is winning kick offs as he did at the weekend and his kicking game is very strong for us plus he is a great example.
‘Chris is a good lad. Parts of his game can get better and the good thing he wants to work on it. He has brought a good energy to the team.
‘He has a different style to say Jason Robinson. Both score tries but different players.
‘We’re now in the middle of the Championship with a big game ahead. It’s all very exciting. The team is still developing and we’re keeping them together.’
Johnson also denied every ordering Ashton to cut out his famous swallow dive
‘I try not to tell players not to do things. I let them make their own decisions. We had a review last week where we said just get the ball down safe. He did that four times,’ said Johnson
‘It’s not a big issue. Chris doesn’t want to detract from what the team is doing. I disagree that he is doing it for his own selfish enjoyment. He is not. It is a spontaneous thing with him and he’s enjoying scoring tries while playing for England.’