x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Only a win will do for Johnson

The England manager Martin Johnson says he is going out for victory at Twickenham and not to entertain crowd.

From left to right, Nick Kennedy, Delon Armitage, Ugo Monye and Riki Flutey will make their England Test debuts against the Pacific Islands.
From left to right, Nick Kennedy, Delon Armitage, Ugo Monye and Riki Flutey will make their England Test debuts against the Pacific Islands.

LONDON // Politics and sport are often unfairly compared. Yet on Tuesday, when Martin Johnson, the new England rugby union manager, unveiled his squad for tomorrow's encounter with the Pacific Islands at Twickenham, you could have forgiven fans for feeling a similar sentiment that many Americans will feel when Barack Obama names his Democratic team. Excitement.

Johnson, who is best known for his pragmatism, experience and leadership, unveiled a squad completely at odds with those qualities. His run-on team boast four new caps and are bristling with attacking intent. Beyond the usual statements that are uttered in press conferences, the former World Cup-winning captain was keen to stress one point yesterday - the importance of victory. "I want to see us win. That is what we are there for," he said.

Three of the four greenhorns charged with bringing success back to Twickenham inhabit the backline. The Harlequin's Ugo Monye, the Guinness Premiership's top tryscorer this season, Riki Flutey, the Wasps centre, and full-back Delon Armitage, of London Irish, are thrilling choices. Nick Kennedy, the 6ft 8in London Irish lock, who dominated line-outs in the Premiership last season, completes the quartet.

All of them are going to have to adjust to the manager's winning man tra. "I'd rather labour to a one-point win than go down to a one-point loss," Johnson continued. "You've got to go out to win, not to go out to entertain the crowd. "If you have that mindset, that's when you get distracted. "We're going out to win, first and foremost." It is a striking contrast to the impression that the Pacific Islands have created in the two short, but entertaining tours they have embarked on.

The combination of some of the best players from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa are still searching for their maiden victory, something that Mosese Rauluni, their captain, is understandably keen to rectify. "We are really looking forward to trying to win a Test and hopefully try and spoil it for Martin Johnson," Rauluni said. The Islanders have had a short preparation time, having only met up on Sunday, but Rauluni highlights one reason to expect a better performance from his side tomorrow.

"The first year we toured the coaches selected a lot of the boys from Australia and New Zealand, and they were probably not used to the big Test matches," the Fijian scrum-half continued. "It's really going to help us that most of our players are based over here this time." Rauluni is not only out to spoil the party for Johnson, but also that of his teammate and club captain at Saracens, England skipper Steve Borthwick.

"It's going to be a good battle, but hopefully we can come out best," he said. griddle@thenational.ae