Martin Johnson laughs off blocking claims
BOTH men have tried all week to stop this evening's Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield turning from Scotland v England into Andy Robinson v Martin Johnson, but the sense of two adversaries pitting their wits against each other was unmistakable yesterday.
Scotland have twice in the past few days highlighted how important it is that the referee ensures the laws are adhered to this evening. First, Robinson pointed to England's habit of illegally blocking opponents from reaching the ball carrier, by using American football-style tactics.
Then his assistant coach Gregor Townsend said that he welcomed the fact that the match will be refereed by Marius Jonker, because the South African has a reputation for penalising teams who kill the game by slowing down ball.
England did not arrive in Scotland until yesterday afternoon – their stay is more like a raid, with the team returning to London immediately after today's match – but word of Scotland's concerns had reached their Surrey base in Bagshot by the time manager Johnson addressed the media in the morning.
Johnson, a former gridiron player and huge fan of the sport, laughed: "It is not a very good comparison. In American football you have a lead blocker and the ball-carrier follows directly behind him.
"All teams use decoy runners. We haven't been penalised for obstruction.
"Townsend talked about us lying on the ball but we only gave away one penalty at the breakdown against Ireland.
"We are the least penalised team in the championship. We only gave away six penalties against Ireland. If you are guilty of an offence the referee will penalise you for it.
"The referee didn't say anything to me so I don't think it is an issue."
England captain Steve Borthwick added: "No referee has spoken to me about it. We train within the laws of the game and we play within the laws of the game.
"Marius Jonker is the referee this weekend. He did the corresponding fixture at Twickenham last year and the game against Australia in the autumn. What matters is not Andy Robinson's opinion or my opinion but Marius Jonker's opinion."
Robinson's England record adds extra spice to the occasion. He played in the 12-12 draw at Murrayfield in 1989 and then coached England to defeat in 2006. Meanwhile, Johnson never lost to Scotland in 11 years as a player and he oversaw last year's victory at Twickenham.
The two men worked closely, as captain and forwards coach, for England in the build-up to the 2003 World Cup triumph and on the 2001 Lions tour.
Robinson was hardly full of praise for Johnson's management credentials earlier this week, claiming he has a good understanding of the game "from the second row position".
He also assessed Johnson's playing skills with the verdict: "He wasn't the best in any aspect of the game for a second row but he'd always look to improve."
But Johnson has not responded in kind, choosing only to say: "It is not about me and Andy, it is England against Scotland.
"I had four years of being coached by Andy with England. There were lots of good times and some disappointing losses but they were happy days. He is as passionate a rugby man as you will find and good luck to him."
The England manager was more forthcoming on the game itself, explaining that he expects England to have a torrid time in today's fixture regardless of Scotland's recent record, with Robinson's team determined not to see their losing run in the 2010 RBS Six Nations Championship extend to four games following defeats to France, Wales and Italy.
"When you are in that position you will come out with ferocity but I think they will have done that anyway," said Johnson. "They haven't won a game, they are desperate to win. There will be that tension and ferocity around.
"They want to come off to cheers and a big win against England and their first win of the championship.
"We want to keep the crowd quiet and get our third win. That is the battle. A lot of rugby is about energy, urgency, passion and emotion and we can't come second in that area. Then it comes down to execution and tactical thinking.
"That is the challenge whenever you go away from home, wherever it is.
"In the Six Nations all these games have their own history and the countries have their own history, which makes it fun."
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