Ireland v England is too close to call, says Martin Johnson
Last Updated: 14/03/17 2:21pm
Martin Johnson believes England face a huge challenge against Ireland that was not helped by thrashing Scotland.
England are on the verge of making history with Ireland standing in their way of a first Six Nations back-to-back Grand Slam as well as the record for most consecutive tier one Test wins.
They have already wrapped up this year's Championship with their 61-21 thrashing of Scotland and registered their 18th straight Test victory, equalling New Zealand's run.
However they head to Dublin to take on Ireland eager to prove that they are a better than the side that has lost to Scotland and Wales this campaign.
Martin Johnson, who has won and lost a Grand Slam with England in Dublin, has been impressed with England's ruthlessness but is warning about the threat Ireland will pose on Saturday.
"I thought England were ruthless and they exploited the same place against Scotland," Johnson told Sky Sports.
"I have not seen a game where a team have scored the same try three times and have gone through the same place. Ireland will be a different day and it will be very interesting to see what England will run and how they will try to attack Ireland of the set piece,"
"To stop anything in rugby is to stop them at source - don't let come off the back of the lineout and put them under pressure. One hand, one finger tip on the England ball at the lineout and the whole thing does not work - suddenly Jonathan Joseph is forced to defend and is not scoring three tries.
"Things can change really quickly and in some ways the Scotland win is not the ideal preparation for the Ireland game."
Winning in Dublin is no easy feat and Johnson says England have to get off to a good start if they want to silence the home crowd. Johnson famously led England to a Grand Slam back in 2003 where they silenced the home crowd with a convincing 42-6 victory.
"A good start is crucial - that is more important away from home than at home really as you have got to put doubt in the mind of the home crowd and of Ireland as well.
"You execute well and don't make mistakes - you don't give them anywhere to go. Your defence has to be as tenacious as their defence.
"It's not all about you playing and them stopping you, it is about you stopping them as well. Turn your defence into opportunities, turnovers - perhaps play a kicking game early on.
"I always say that the opposition decide what the score is going to be - we are going to win, but you are going to decide what the score is. So if they come and play really, really well then it is going to be a close game. If they can't play well then we will beat you quite readily and if they play terribly then we will put sixty points on you like we did against Scotland."
Johnson believes that George Ford will be crucial for England and has been very impressed with the England No.10.
"I think with George, he is a very smart player. He thinks about what is the right thing to do now, and not about what looks good or looks flash. You don't know what sort of game the opposition is going to play, but you do know what you can do, so you need to control that.
"This will be a great test for England - I know the Championship is over but in a way it isn't - Ireland will be thinking that if they beat England, then we are better than them.
"I can't call it - I hope England go and perform like the team we think they are. Have the confidence and the know-how to play the game at that level. It will be a huge challenge.
"Saturday will be about momentum - if England can score in the first twenty minutes then that will be huge - likewise if Ireland score in the first ten minutes. If England are to concede first then will they be able to come back in Dublin? That will be a real test."
That day in 2003, Johnson famously refused to move after lining up his team on the wrong side of the carpet for the pre-match introductions and has no regrets for breaking with protocol.
"There was a red carpet, we were kicking-off that way so we lined up that way. Crack on."
Martin Johnson was speaking in his role as an ambassador for Standard Life Investments' principal partnership of the British & Irish Lions 2017
All 10 games of the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand will be shown live on Sky Sports, starting June 3 2017.