Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Johnno Can Pass the Ultimate Test; Top Man: Martin Johnson, in England Training, Begins His Managerial Reign on Saturday with a Clash against the Pacific Islanders

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Johnno Can Pass the Ultimate Test; Top Man: Martin Johnson, in England Training, Begins His Managerial Reign on Saturday with a Clash against the Pacific Islanders

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Jones

LAWRENCE DALLAGLIO today backed England's players to come through the most intense month of rugby they have ever experienced.

A new era under Martin Johnson begins on Saturday against the Pacific Islanders at Twickenham and is followed by titanic clashes with Australia, South Africa and New Zealand on the following three weekends.

Dallaglio, like Johnson another former England captain, believes the new team manager is uniquely qualified for the task ahead.

He said: "There is real expectation around England because Martin Johnson was one of those players who always brought a feeling of confidence to the team.

"If you looked down a team sheet and saw his name on it, then it was a boost and it generated confidence. Fans thought everything was okay because he was playing. He brings that same authority as team manager.

"The 22-man squad on duty on Saturday have the chance to fire the first salvo in the Johnson reign and that means putting in a quality display.

"It's going to be important for Martin to bring his natural authority to certain areas of the team and you could argue that we haven't had enough leaders on the pitch. The team are about to go through the most intense month any England player has experienced, taking on, probably, the three best teams in the world.

"Therefore, leaders will evolve in the weeks ahead and, by the final match, Martin and his coaches will have a better idea of who the senior players are.

Those players are going to go through a lot this month and it promises to be a steep learning curve for everyone." Dallaglio was Johnson's right-hand man during the 2003 World Cup success but his upbeat verdict on the new team manager is not based on any lingering loyalty. The pair were bitter rivals at club level.

But Dallaglio, an ambassador for Greene King IPA, acknowledges there will be difficult times ahead for Johnson and his players.

He said: "Of course there are going to be some ups and down. The England team that went on to win the 2003 World Cup played four Tests in 1997 and lost two and got two draws. There aren't any major surprises in the team Martin has picked because he is at the beginning of his journey and so are the players. …

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