Rugby-Johnson happy as England forced to find new way to win

Reuters

Sat, 20 Nov 18:06:00 2010

Martin Johnson cut a chirpier figure after Saturday's dogged 26-13 victory over Samoa than after last week's scintillating destruction of Australia as he considered his team to have learned important lessons.

Following last week's all-action 35-18 defeat of the Wallabies, England had to slog it out with the indestructible islanders who even had the temerity to take a second-half lead when Paul Williams scored their first-ever Twickenham try.

Scores by Matt Banahan and Tom Croft and some calming penalties from Toby Flood pulled England into clear water so that Fautua Otto's last-gasp try made no difference.

"Some of the guys were a bit disappointed but I said 'that's test rugby, we've ground our way to a win," Johnson told reporters.

"It was quite frustrating to watch but good in a way for the players to go through it. We had to keep our composure, keep on playing, go for the breakthrough so it was another experience."

With Samoa's fearsome tackling and commitment to the breakdown England were never likely to reproduce the free-running back play that had everyone so excited a week ago.

Johnson, ever the pragmatist, had no complaints about that.

"It was a very different game. There were lots of re-set scrums, lots of penalties, lots of bodies around the breakdown slowing things down so getting quicker ball was hard. I think we adapted to it quite well," he said.

"I'd said to the guys during the week that if it takes 75 minutes to break them down then that's what it takes and today it probably took us 60.

"We could have scored a couple of tries in the first half but in a way it was a good thing we didn't. We had to stay composed, even then it took a while to break them down."

WITHIN RANGE

Johnson said he was not entirely convinced by some of the quick-tap options his players took from penalties awarded well within Flood's range, particularly in the first period as his side struggled to establish a 6-3 halftime lead.

Revealing the secrets of his halftime team talk, the former World Cup-winning captain explained: "I said 'points are nice; the lead is nice'. It's a very different game at 26-8 than 6-3.

"I told them that if we tap we have to be good and finish. Today we didn't a couple of times but last week we went 60 yards and got scores from it and so it looked a great option.

"It's a fine line but I'd rather the guys tried these things and I'll just have to sit there and tear my hair out."

The no-nonsense boss was also not entirely comfortable with Banahan echoing Chris Ashton last week by punching the air en route to scoring.

"I want them to get the ball down before they start celebrating," he said.

Overall, however, Johnson was delighted at overseeing back-to-back November England wins for the first time in six years and is looking forward to turning that into a hat-trick against South Africa next week.

"We've got one shot at the world champions," he said. "We've clearly taken steps, how big they are...we'll see."

 

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