After losing to Wales last week, the knives have been out for England and coach Stuart Lancaster, though victory over Australia on Saturday would put them in a strong position to advance.


“It sounds obvious, of course, but they just need to win on Saturday,” the former England captain told Reuters in an interview. “It’s essential that they get the Wales game out of their system, which I’m sure they will have done after the reviews, and focus everything on Australia.

“If they win that, then it’s game on.”

Johnson said he was frustrated by some aspects of England’s approach against Wales, particularly after getting themselves into such a strong position when leading by 10 points early in the second half.

“I just felt they stopped playing a bit,” he said at an event organised by tournament sponsor MasterCard.

“It seemed they were just trying to hold on to what they had and I was watching it thinking ‘no’ when they kept kicking the ball away.

“There was that moment in the second half when we were on the attack and Wales had just lost two backs to injuries and we opted to try to drive it. I felt that was the time to try to move the ball, though of course it’s always easy to make those calls when you’re not out there.”

In his defence, Johnson usually made the right calls when he was out there, and he has been at the sharp end in three World Cups as a player and one as coach.

He was part of the team who beat Australia in the 1995 quarter-finals with a last-minute Rob Andrew drop goal, only to be brought crashing down to earth in the semis by New Zealand and Jonah Lomu.

Four years later the boot was on the other foot as Jannie De Beer’s five drop goals for South Africa sent England packing at the quarter-final stage.

In 2003 England finally came good, with Johnson hoisting the Webb Ellis Cup in Sydney before retiring as a player.

Somewhat reluctantly, he was dragged back to coach the team and guided them to the Six Nations title in 2011 — England’s only success in that competition in the past 13 years — and then another run to the World Cup quarter-finals before a somewhat meek performance resulted in defeat by France.

Despite his obvious allegiance, Johnson feels Saturday’s game is too close to call.

“I just don’t know,” he said when asked if he thought England would come through. “They can, of course, and there’s no reason why not — and remember, they played pretty well for an hour against Wales.

“But Australia are always a dangerous team. When you play against them you know you probably have to score 25 points as you know they are going to score tries.”

(Editing by David Goodman)

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