x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Johnson stands by Cipriani and his captain Borthwick

Perhaps an eminently-winnable Test match against the world champions is just what Martin Johnson requires at this stage of his tenure as England manager.

Perhaps an eminently-winnable Test match against the world champions is just what Martin Johnson requires at this stage of his tenure as England manager. The iconic leader kicked off his stint as England coach earlier this month by pleading for patience from the rugby public for his developing side. Two matches later, and in the wake of defeat to Australia, he is already feeling the heat. The scrum, which has, since before Johnson's playing days, been England's greatest strength, is not functioning. He has picked a dud captain. And the golden boy he has instilled so much faith in at fly-half has shown he is still just that - a boy - at Test level.

A victory today would go a long way to correcting all those ills, and Johnson has kept faith with the much criticised duo of his captain, Steve Borthwick, and stand-off Danny Cipriani. Even with England's poor form, they could still better the Boks - and that view comes straight from the mouth of the South African coach, Peter de Villiers. De Villiers, who has hardly been averse to eccentric ramblings since he took over the post from Jake White, claimed his side are struggling for motivation ahead of their trip to Twickenham.

He was referring to the fatigue that has been forced upon them by a long, hard season. However, it is hard to believe that players of the ilk and competitive spirit as Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield and John Smit will not be up for a clash with England. Brian O'Driscoll, the Ireland captain, believes his side's recently-fostered rivalry with Argentina makes today's encounter in Dublin a "grudge match". The fixture does carry with it extra significance. If the Pumas do claim their fourth successive win over the Irish, it will relegate O'Driscoll's team outside of the world's top eight - meaning a tougher World Cup draw.

Argentina knocked Ireland out of last year's World Cup in France, and O'Driscoll said: "Post-World Cup we've built up grudge matches. This match is about seeding, you just think about now and let previous rivalries pass you by." pradley@thenational.ae