Rugby World Cup 2011: Martin Johnson – The world to win…

...but England's rugby team manager has Georgia on his mind

You captained England to victory in 2003, now you’re the manager – what does it take to win the Rugby World Cup?

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It’s about handling the pressure, about finding out who’s got the character to come through. England teams have traditionally shown that we cope well with the pressure, because we’ve reached three finals in the past 20 years.
The true test is finding out whether you can perform at your best under pressure. There are lots of people who can play when things are going their way. But can they do it when they’re not?

 

England play Georgia on Sunday. Can people still talk about World Cup minnows?

The world is smaller in every sense. All the guys are professional and the big drubbings won’t happen as much as they used to in the past.

People forget that Georgia came close to beating Ireland in the 2007 World Cup. It’s going to be a hugely competitive game.

We’re at a point where we shouldn’t be surprised by any of these smaller teams – the Pacific Island teams have been beating the so-called bigger teams for 20 years.

Do you think England have made progress as a team since you took over?

We’ve definitely come a long way.

The first team I had came second to Ireland in the Six Nations back in 2009 and quite a few of those guys aren’t there any more. Well, to be honest some of those guys went away for a while, but have now come back.

But alongside them a new generation of players has come in. I’m thinking of players like Dan Cole, Alex Corbisiero, Courtney Lawes, Ben Foden and Chris Ashton.

We’re in a world where everyone wants everything quickly. We coaches want that too, but the evolution of a team doesn’t really work like that.

I couldn’t have picked those guys three years ago because a lot of them weren’t playing any Premiership rugby at all.

People scream, “Play the kids” when the results aren’t there, but you can only play those guys when they’re ready or you risk ruining them completely.

Ben Foden is a good example. When he first emerged he played at scrum half against Italy in 2009! Now he’s had nearly 18 months playing at full-back and has 17 caps to his name.

Do you ever get frustrated with a player and think, “He can’t do the things I did”?

Yes, occasionally. But you have to stop and think how you were at 23, about the mistakes you made yourself at that age.

When it comes to youngsters, do you believe if you’re good enough, you’re old enough?

Pretty much. “Good enough” means being able to handle whatever’s thrown at you and we’ve got players who can do that. Manu Tuilagi’s 20, Ben Foden played when he was 20, Courtney Lawes when he was 20 or 21.

Do you worry about your reputation?

I don’t give it a second’s thought. I won a World Cup, but there were two others I didn’t win.

 

What’s the most difficult part of the job?

I forget that some things I say can be taken very literally by certain people. You have to understand that the idea is to encourage players to make their own decisions rather than telling them how to play.

You can’t cover everything off, nor should you want to. You have to allow the guys to play with their instinct.