England dismiss favourites tag against Pumas

(Rugby News Service) Friday 2 September 2011
England dismiss favourites tag against Pumas
Manu Tuilagi arrives in Auckland with his England teammates

AUCKLAND, 2 Sept. - While England will be considered favourites going into their opening match against Argentina, England manager Martin Johnson is not buying the hype.

Drawn alongside the Pumas and Scotland in Pool B, Johnson is well aware of the challenges his side face as they kick off their Rugby World Cup 2011 campaign on Saturday, 10 September.

England, Scotland and Argentina are all considered contenders to top the pool and Johnson believes the best approach to making it through the preliminary rounds is to follow the old cliché of taking one match at a time.

“It’s a big game, same for them,” Johnson said on Thursday. “You’ve got a pool with three quarter-finalists from the last tournament, one that was second, one that was third and in Scotland a team that’s made every quarter-final.

“Who’s favourite, who’s favourite for the tournament, who’s favourite for any one game? You’ve got to get over that and just play to win. When you play a team like Argentina in the first game, it’s a massive challenge.”

Johnson has an idea of what to expect from the Argentines. He was a member of the England team when the sides last met at a Rugby World Cup in 1995. England won 24-18.

“They’re a very difficult team to play. They’re going to put us under a lot of pressure in the set-piece, in the breakdown, with their kicking game, so we’ve just got to worry about winning this game, not what may or may not happen through October. If people call us favourites or not, we’ve got to go and win that battle.”

A key part of that battle will be at the set-piece, but the England manager is not threatened by the Pumas' scrum.

“I don’t fear it, I respect it,” Johnson said. “Certainly their whole game is to be respected because they put you under pressure. At set-piece, at breakdown, whatever they do they’re all over you. They do what they do very well. We’ve got a lot of respect for them. As we start thinking about that game over the next few days we’ll be under no illusion as to what a difficult game this will be.”

RNS omg/aa/mr