Although Martin Johnson has taken a couple of years to come to terms with international rugby union management, he has certainly developed and continues to develop a team that increasingly looks likely to achieve big things at the forthcoming World Cup.
The former England and British Lions captain claimed his first success in management last season when England lifted the Six Nations Championship. It is true that the defeat by Ireland in the final game to stop the Grand Slam win took some of the gloss off the success but England still look the most likely of the Six Nations teams to take on the might of the Southern Hemisphere in New Zealand in September.
The Johnson development programme will see another new face in its line-up for Saturday’s World Cup warm up match against Wales at Twickenham with powerhouse Manu Tuilagi set to play in the centres, a position where he has excelled for Leicester throughout last season as well as his two appearances for the England Saxons.
The 20 year old has made a huge impression at England’s Summer Camp where Johnson has stated that he has done nothing but impress, which is why he looks certain to play, possibly replacing the Queen’s new Grandson-in-Law, Mike Tindall, in the first of three warm up games which sees them head to Cardiff next Saturday for the return game before heading to Dublin at the end of the month to face Ireland before heading to New Zealand.
Two years ago, Johnson introduced Ben Foden into the team at full back and last year he brought in Foden’s Northampton team mate, Chris Ashton, both have made huge impressions to the new attacking look that Johnson has England playing and Tuilagi looks capable of making an equally big impression.
With a full squad of players to choose from, Johnson looks set to name a strong team whilst Wales will come into the game without skipper, Matthew Rees along with several other likely to miss out due to injury problems and as result, England should win this one comfortably.
In the second of the two Rugby World cup warm up matches this weekend, Ireland will start favourites to overcome Scotland at the Aviva Stadium, although the Scottish will be confident of an upset after they came so close when the two teams last met at Murrayfield in February in the Six Nations. Ireland won that game by only 21-18 but they will remember that it was Scotland that took the honours in 2010 defeating Ireland at Croke Park by 23-20.
On paper Ireland has the stronger squad but Scotland, despite results, have shown much improvement over the last three years or so and will come into the game full of confidence. It is believed that Scotland coach Andy Robinson will make a few changes from the team that concluded the Six Nations with a win over Italy, changes should see the inclusion of back row Ross Rennie, who will be making his debut. Chris Paterson will be at full back and no doubt in prime kicking form.
Ireland will start the game with the highly gifted Jonathan Sexton at fly half, but they are certain to be without captain, Brian O’Driscoll, who is nursing a minor injury and as a result, Scotland could one again nick a result in Dublin.
All games will almost certainly not be played as full bloodied encounters but should give the coaches plenty of food for thought before making their final squads known ahead of what all will be hoping for a good showing in New Zealand. England will be looking to make it to the final for a third consecutive time whilst Ireland will be looking to better their previous best efforts of reaching the Quarter Finals, whilst Wales and Scotland would both be delighted if they could match their previous best effort of making the Semi Finals, which would be a major achievement for either, albeit highly unlikely given the level of competition.