Rugby-Johnson shrugs off talk of a title decider


Thu, 24 Feb 15:41:00 2011

* Manager predicts "big, big game" against France

* Flanker Moody misses out, prop Sheridan returns (Adds quotes, background)

England manager Martin Johnson dismissed on Thursday any suggestion that Saturday's Six Nations game against France was a grand slam or even a title decider.

Both teams have won their opening two matches and Saturday's winners will be well placed to go on to claim the final European title before this year's World Cup in New Zealand.

"It doesn't annoy me, it's just factually incorrect," Johnson told reporters in typically deadpan style after naming a team showing just one change. Prop Andrew Sheridan replaces Alex Corbisiero in the team who hammered Italy 59-13.

"France have made it pretty clear they think if they win this one they'll win the lot but we're not looking beyond this game," Johnson added.

"But it is a big, big game and that's good. There are more people at these press conferences, there are comments in the media, it's got a bit of a tournament feel about it and that's good experience for the players."

France coach Marc Lievremont has stoked up the pressure with a verbal broadside at England, insisting that everybody wanted their side to beat them.

Among other choice observations, Lievremont said France shared the same quality of life as the Italians, appreciated the Celts and their conviviality and shared with both a dislike of the English.

"I quite like it. It's international sport and so you back your country," Johnson said. "I'm glad he's cleared up the Franco-Italian relationship but I think we knew how the Celts feel."


France go into the game on a run of eight wins in the championship with their last defeat coming at Twickenham in 2009 and Johnson did not try to hide the size of the task ahead of his side.

"Their win in Dublin, coming from behind twice, was probably the performance of the championship so far," he said.

"They are an all-round threat. Lineout drive, the scrum can squeeze you, good carriers, good speed. they can attack you in so many ways so we are looking for a big, big game."

There was no recall for flanker Lewis Moody, who had hoped to play after missing the first two games with a knee ligament injury.

Moody suffered a knock during a 23-minute appearance for Bath last weekend and Mike Tindall will continue as captain.

"He's our captain, we all know what he brings to the team and he's worked really hard to get back, everyone was confident so he's disappointed," Johnson said.

"But the other guys have done a good job, we're fully happy with them and it's a consistent team selection.

"It's come together through the year. The guys are playing well and we're getting the results we want and so they deserve to start the next game.

"In the last 18 months a group of young players have forced their way into the team with their performances and once in they've taken their chance.

"The foundations are there now and we're starting to see it in games."

England have won nine of their last 11 home championship games against France and, with a potential World Cup quarter-final on the horizon, a win on Saturday would further boost their psychological advantage.


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