Rugby World Cup 2011: Martin Johnson and England's Opening-Weekend French Lesson
In a tournament lasting nearly six weeks, you'll always hear coaches talking about the value of pacing yourself and the importance of not peaking to soon. For some of the big teams in this 2011 tournament, that just isn't an option—with England likely being the biggest team with that worry.
On Saturday evening/morning (depending on your time zone), the 2003 winners will line up against Argentina under the roof in Dunedin.
In 2007, the wily Pumas came up with one of the shocks of the tournament: defeating their French hosts 17-12 in Paris on opening night.
What was clear that evening was that France didn't turn up as a team that was ready to be fully tested. Whether it was complacency or just the occasion, the simple facts were that, for most of the game, the French squad was outsmarted and out-thought.
Martin Johnson's task is to make sure this doesn't happen to his men, and his team selection tends to show that he is taking a conservative approach to frustrate players such as Contepomi, Agulla and Fernandez Lobbe.
Richard Wiggelsworth has been surprisingly preferred to Ben Youngs at scrum half. In his press conference, Johnson talked about Wigglesworth in terms of savviness, maturity and experience. These terms could also be applied to Jonny Wilkinson, who gets the start at No. 10 over Toby Flood.
Wilkinson was, of course, the lynchpin for England's World Cup victory back in Australia in 2003, as well as playing an important part in much of their 2007 campaign. Those performances, however, were not ones that were remembered for flair and style—but more for grit and tough rugby.
England's game plan is therefore clear, tough, territorial and forward rugby, which will attempt to stifle the creativity and sneakiness of the Pumas. The forward pack must therefore live up to expectations while, more importantly, living up to their dynamic ability. Failure to cross the gain line and dominate the breakdown will quickly lead to Bryce Lawrence penalising Johnson's men.
That eventuality could very well see England being forced into getting a result against neighbouring Scotland, in order to guarantee qualification.
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