Johnson: England must win crowd over

MARTIN JOHNSON has urged England to win back the faith of the Twickenham crowd with a ferocious start and victorious finish to tomorrow’s RBS 6 Nations showdown with France.

When Johnson was captain, England transformed Twickenham into a fortress with an unbeaten run of 22 home games that stretched between the 1999 World Cup and their triumph in 2003.

But England have won just 55% of their home internationals — 16 from 29 Tests — since Johnson retired as captain after lifting the Webb Ellis trophy.

Now England manager, Johnson has seen them plummet to their worst ever world ranking of eighth on the back of away defeats to Wales and Ireland and a flurry of yellow cards.

Johnson believes England will return to Twickenham stronger for the experience — and he called on the current generation to give the fans something to cheer about.

“When I was captain we won games because we were a good, experienced team. One thing we always said when we played there was that it was not up to he crowd to get us in the game, it is the other way round,” said Johnson.

“We need to do that on Sunday. If you don’t play well you face the consequences and if you get beaten people will not be happy. That is one of the consequences of what we do.

“The first 20 minutes is important, as it is for all games but when you are at home to get the crowd behind you.

“What was the score at half-time in those games at Cardiff and Dublin? It was 9-8 and 3-3. We were where we needed to be at half-time. It was relatively quiet at the Millennium Stadium and at Croke Park after emotional starts.

“We got that bit done in those games and didn’t get the rest of it finished.”

Johnson was furious with the manner in which England let the chance of victory at Croke Park slip away with yet another ill-disciplined performance, including 18 penalties and two more sin-binnings, taking their total to 10 yellow cards in four games.

He has warned England they risk being ripped apart by the Gallic mix of power and pace if they sacrifice possession by conceding more careless penalties.

“France have come off one of the best performances of the championship against Wales,” said Johnson.

“They have a shot at the championship still and they will be a very tough proposition.

“Whenever you play France you know that if you are not at your absolute best there is a chance they could rip you to pieces. They are different and dangerous.”

England have attempted to match fire with fire by recalling lock Simon Shaw and athletic lineout jumper Tom Croft in a bid to combat the French forward power.

However, Lionel Faure admits France’s scrum has a score to settle when they come up against England.

Les Bleus’ front row was stripped bare in England’s win at the Stade de France in last year’s RBS 6 Nations, the visitors’ dominance in this department earning them a platform for an ultimately comfortable 24-13 victory.

Mark Regan will not be there to put the wind up Les Tricolores like he did a year ago but Andrew Sheridan, Faure’s colleague at Sale, and Phil Vickery remain pillars of that England front row.

With France’s scrum having improved massively since the last Six Nations, Faure is desperate to make amends.

“It isn’t necessarily revenge but we would like to show them that the penalties given against us in the scrum weren’t entirely justified,” Faure said.

“We were penalised so much in this department (in the last Six Nations) and we were in a negative spiral that was above all a mental thing.”

Faure turns at the expense of Fabien Barcella, with France head coach Marc Lievremont hoping the Sale powerhouse’s knowledge of English rugby will stand him in good stead.

“Sheridan is my club team-mate and we get on well — we have our common points and plenty of things to talk about,” Faure said.

“(Sharks and England winger) Mark Cueto is a really good bloke too but as for the rest there isn’t a lot of affinity with the English.”

But Faure admits it is not a great time to take on the English.

“We mustn’t forget that England could have won in Ireland,” he said.

“Despite their indiscipline, they put in a huge performance. And it was the same thing against Wales. We are going to have to watch out.

“They are going to come at us and we know we are going to have to be ready physically for this battle.”

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