England still have a long way to go, says Johnson
MARTIN Johnson admits England are still a long way short of being ready to challenge the best teams in the world – despite their positive end to the RBS Six Nations championship.
The England manager was proud of the way his side responded to a proverbial "kick in the nuts" by picking themselves up off the floor to finish second in the table. England's miserable autumn, which included a record 42-6 home defeat to South Africa, and disappointing start to the Six Nations had seen them plummet to a worst ever world ranking of eighth.
But Johnson told his men that home victories over France and Scotland are only the start of a long journey back to the top table of world rugby.
"There is no way we are anywhere near where we think we can get to as a group," said Johnson. "You have to improve, you have to set new standards. In no way are we satisfied with what we've done. Sometimes it didn't feel like (we deserved] second place. We are just getting started and can improve on every area of what we do – on the field, tactically, with our skills and fitness. There are some guys who are where they need to be at a world-class level and some who aren't.
"Having a world-class level of fitness is a pre-requisite. Decision-making under pressure is more difficult when you are fatigued. Ireland won the Grand Slam by finding a way to win those close games.
"There are definitely improvements we can make in that area but we're further along the road. We've made big strides as a team in terms of what we're trying to do. We showed a large amount of improvement through the tournament. There is a lot more to come from that squad."
Johnson's hands-on reign as England manager has yielded four wins from nine Tests but only the 34-10 triumph over France was against a side ranked higher in the world.
That win eased the pressure that had built up on Johnson's regime through the autumn and a start to the Six Nations that included a laboured win over Italy and successive defeats away to Wales and Ireland that were peppered with ill-discipline. But Johnson insisted he never regretted his decision to take charge of England – and put his lofty reputation as World Cup-winning captain on the line.
"That's what it is about. You can live your life on a level playing field if you want but if you get involved in high-level sport you are going to get a kick in the nuts occasionally," he said.
"When we were heavily beaten at home to South Africa it was pretty difficult but things are never as bleak as people think they are."
Johnson's next task will be to lead England into a two-Test summer series against Argentina without a number of leading players who will be on Lions duty – a challenge he believes will only help their climb up the rankings table.
"By the end of the summer they are going to have played the best teams in the world at least once and it's about us saying, 'This is the standard and we need to push the boundaries in everything we do'," Johnson said.
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