England face Italy on Sunday in their third match of the Six Nations
England have beaten France and Wales so far in this year’s tournament
Martin Johnson has warned Eddie Jones’ men that it is a key weekend
Former England head coach and World Cup-winning skipper Martin Johnson has warned England against any complacency as the Six Nations table-toppers take on a vulnerable Italy this weekend.
After back-to-back wins against France and Wales, England are looking to create some history on Sunday as they host an Italian side shipping tries, with victory moving them one behind New Zealand’s record of 18 consecutive international wins.
But Johnson, who coached England to the Six Nations title in 2011, believes Italy will have nothing to lose as they head to Twickenham on Sunday.
“It’s a pivotal weekend now, the middle weekend,” said Johnson.
“There are teams with one win and one loss. If you get that second win then you go into the final two games flying. But if you get that second loss you are thinking it’s hard work.”
The Red Rose welcome Italy to Twickenham with Jonathan Joseph having been left out of Eddie Jones’ matchday squad while there are starts for Danny Care, Ben Te’o, Jonny May and a return to the starting XV for James Haskell.
But Johnson is confident Jones will not let any form of complacency creep into his side, with Italy never having beaten England in their 22-game head-to-head history.
“It’s not about changing everything and doing something completely differently against Italy. You just keep doing what you trying to do,” he said.
MORE RUCK QUIZZES:
“I’m not one for thinking that you can just go and do what you want against Italy because that’s completely not the case.
“They’ll come here and do well. They’ll come flying in, particularly if England think they can do what they want to do.
“England have to go and win the game, be tough, be aggressive and win those battles that you have to win, then the opportunity to play comes.
“You’ve got to get the mindset right. The other things happen if you get the first thing right.”
With Scotland hosting Wales on Saturday, Johnson is fearful for Vern Cotter’s side, with his standout men from the last game against France not in the side for differing reasons.
Josh Strauss is out through injury while Hamish Watson only makes the bench, despite Johnson hoping to see the 25-year-old on the plane to New Zealand this summer.
“I was really impressed with him against France. In a game where the back row guys, a lot of them, are over 110kg, he was flying around there and having impact,” added Johnson, who is an ambassador for Standard Life Investments, a principal partner of the British & Irish Lions.
“You often think he’s going to get caught in a tackle, but he wriggles out and gets another three or four yards.
“He’s there, flying about, and for such a young guy it would be great for his development to go on the Lions Tour.”
In the weekend’s remaining fixture France visit Ireland and Johnson has picked out Sean O’Brien for Lions head coach Warren Gatland to take a closer look at.
The back row has played in both of Ireland’s games so far this year, the narrow loss to Scotland and the emphatic win over Italy a fortnight ago. And Johnson believes he is in with a shout of Lions selection.
“He’s playing at seven but he has the physicality of a six or eight. You can almost play him anywhere,” he said.
“Some of these guys can fit anywhere in the back row, as long as you have the balance. He’s not a line out guy but he’s a big strong ball carrier and dynamic and physical.
“He’s maybe been a little overshadowed by CJ Stander but that doesn’t mean to say he hasn’t played well, because I think he has played well – so he’ll absolutely be in the mix.
“I think with all these guys you want to see them getting over the ball and stealing more ball, you’d want to see him doing more of that, but I think that is the same across the board for all the sevens.”