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Smiles better

Even the coach was beaming after big win, says Phil

Phil Edwards Posted 15th November 2010 view comments

Blimey! Did you see what I saw at Twickenham? It was something I don't think I've seen before in all the years I've been going there.

You're absolutely right, it was the sight of Martin Osborne Johnson CBE wearing a genuine, heart-felt, foot-wide smile on his face.

This is the man who couldn't produce so much as a grin when lifting the World Cup over his head in Sydney all those years ago. I'm told that even in some of his wedding photos he wears the expression of a man trapped in a broken lift with a talkative train-spotter.

Johnson: the picture you thought you'd never see

Johnson: the picture you thought you'd never see

My friend Dave Rogers of Getty Images, the leading rugby photographer in the land (actually, make that the world) has taken 12,763 photographs of Johnno down the years, but only on Saturday did he capture the old man looking truly happy. He had to get confirmation from one of the other snappers that he'd actually been photographing the right guy.

It was England's young guns that barged on to the stage, grabbed the microphone, and brought the house down.

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The reason, of course, is that stunning win against Australia. The Wallabies were supposed the be the side yet again timing their World Cup cycle to perfection; the side that were going to inherit the mantle of the best rugby nation on the planet, just in the nick of time before the next global jamboree.

Barged

I was one of those pasty-faced pessimists before the match, contemplating the Quade Cooper Show, co-starring Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor. Instead, it was England's young guns that barged on to the stage, grabbed the microphone, and brought the house down.

Ben Youngs, Courtney Lawes and Chris Ashton all caught the eye, just as they had in Sydney, and the try they were all involved in, just after half-time, will be talked about for as long as smoked salmon and chardonnay are consumed in the west car park.

It evoked memories of that Serge Blanco-inspired try by Phillipe Saint-Andre in 1991, or the one our very own Stuart Barnes set in motion for Rory Underwood to score, despite having been on the receiving end one of the worst passes from a scrum-half in rugby history (sorry Dewi!).

So what next? Well, expect Johnno to make changes for the Samoa game. I reckon he might like to take another gander at some of the players who impressed on the summer tour.

I've got a feeling he'll want to give Hendre Fourie and Dave Attwood some game time, and have a tinker with the midfield with perhaps Delon Armitage at outside centre.

I hope he doesn't change things too much however because Samoa made Ireland look pretty average at times at a half-empty Lansdowne Road (incidentally the bloke in charge of ticketing and the Aviva Stadium should be made to clean the toilets throughout the entire Six Nations competition) and the longer they are together, the better the south sea islanders will get.

All in all then, England are in pretty good shape. Things could still go belly-up against the world champions, but after back-to-back wins against Australia, confidence in the ranks will be sky-high.

Pivotal

People have talked about the match being a turning point. In fact, for my money, the test on June 19 in Sydney was the pivotal encounter of Johnson's reign to date. A lot of the back-room coaching staff went in to that match knowing there was a very real possibility it could be their last.

I was on the touchline that night and the way Mike Ford and John Wells embraced each other at the final whistle spoke volumes. Well good luck to them, they've helped turn the ship of state around.

There is, of course, a lot of ocean to be crossed before the World Cup, and England will want to keep things in perspective. Johnno is forever telling us that test matches are won or lost at the top end of the sport, usually by the smallest of margins when it comes to tactics and execution. He's not wrong.

Would you bet your life on England beating the Wallabies if they played again tomorrow? Thought not.

The task now is to build on this success and to ensure that the first known sighting in a public place, of the current England manager looking pleased with himself, does not turn out to be a one-off.

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