MARTIN JOHNSON is preparing England for a battle of the breakdown when they open their World Cup campaign against third seeds Argentina in New Zealand this Saturday morning, kick off 9.30am, writes Paul Morgan.
The man who led England to World Cup glory eight years ago knows the pedigree of the Pumas after being on the wrong end of a defeat to them two years ago.
“They are very strong at the set piece – scrum and lineout – and their mauling game is excellent,” said Johnson, “so we are under no illusions about how tough an opening match this is.
“They put huge pressure on you at the breakdown. They compete for everything and they probably turn over and spoil a lot more ball than anyone else at the rucks.
“They’ll put you under tremendous pressure and if you don’t have the right numbers at the breakdown you’ll lose the ball. Quickly and suddenly your attack will turn into their counter attack.
“They will scrap for the ball and when they get it they are very effective whether with the ball in hand or with their kicking game.
“If you get it wrong they will be on to it very quickly and you are in chaos with a defence that is not set and they are off playing.
“That is how they scored against us in Argentina a couple of years ago – they turned our ball over and suddenly they had scored a try.
“Argentina are a very dangerous team to play against.”
And Johnson warned England not just to focus on their forwards because he believes their backs will pose a potent threat in New Zealand.
“They are underestimated in terms of their ability in the backs. They are superb playing off those turnovers and all their back line have very good feet. They are all strong runners and they can play their attack game with kicks as well.
“Argentina are dangerous. You only have to watch their recent game against Wales to see that. “You have to be prepared to change on your feet and change physically and mentally. We had a bit of a chat when we got here as there is a lot of World Cup experience in this squad – people who have won it and people who have been to a final.
“There is a lot of understanding within the England squad about the mental pressure that is on teams here.”
Johnson will tell the players the team to take on Argentina tomorrow (Mon) and expects to be able to select from the whole 30-man squad, which includes injury doubts Lewis Moody, Nick Easter, Tom Wood and Ben Youngs.
“They are all fit to train,” said Johnson, “and they are ready to go.
“It is always day by day, nothing is guaranteed. Tomorrow someone could go down, so it changes every day.”
Johnson has also stressed to his players to get a balance between work, rest and play when they are in New Zealand.
“It’s important they take a break from the rugby from time to time and I have told the that,” said Johnson. “You have to strike a balance. You can sit around for 24 hours a day thinking about it or it will burn you up.
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“You can get in a bit of a bubble and you need to get out and about when you can to get a bit of normality in your life. Guys seem to have been doing that.
“It’s very different to going to New Zealand to play the All Blacks. When we arrived everyone was very friendly and that has continued. It has all been very welcoming.”