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Johnson: England have to be strong

Martin Johnson believes that coping with the pressure of being the host nation holds the key to England's prospects at the 2015 World Cup.

Johnson was at the helm for the sport's global showpiece on two occasions, most notably in 2003 when he became the first Red Rose captain to lift the Webb Ellis trophy.

Four years earlier he led England to a quarter-final exit in a World Cup principally hosted by Wales, but which included games across Europe including Twickenham.

"The demands on the players will be huge. The 1999 World Cup was like that and this will be 16 years later," Johnson told Press Association Sport.

"In 1999 it became too big in our heads. If you make that mistake, that's the World Cup final gone. I've always felt you have to play everything down.

"It's just a game of rugby and that's all it is really. Even in a World Cup final it's 15 against 15 on a rectangle of grass and you have to find a way to win.

"Dealing with that pressure is the most difficult thing. Playing the game is the easy bit because that's what you do and what you know.

"Yes it's hard, but dealing with everything around it is the hardest part.

"In 2003 when we finally got on the field for our group game against South Africa, it was a relief. As players we were dealing with what we knew.

"It's about finding the right balance between being focussed and relaxing. It will be an intense year.

"If you run on to the field and you have the weight of a nation on your shoulders, it's tough. It's catch, pass and play rugby."

Johnson insists preparing for a World Cup is not an exact science and highlights the challenge facing England in qualifying from a group that includes Australia and Wales.

"People are always obsessed by the number of caps in a team, but England reaching the 2007 final proved there is no set way of getting there," he said.

"Look at France in 2011 - we beat them at Twickenham and they weren't looking great going into the World Cup, but maybe they should have won it in the end. There are different ways to be successful.

"Everyone will talk about the build-up, performances and what you need to do, but when you get to the World Cup they are different games, games that are remembered for a long, long time. The pressure is immense.

"England are in as tough a World Cup pool as I can remember. When you're out there you have to know how to deal with the pressure.

"In 2007 France played Argentina in the opening game and if they had slipped behind they were looking at not reaching the quarter-finals of their own World Cup. That prospect weighs heavily on a team."

* Martin Johnson is a MasterCard Rugby World Cup 2015 ambassador. The Rugby World Cup 2015 ticket ballot is now open, use your MasterCard when buying tickets and you won't pay any surcharges and you'll be in with a chance of Priceless Surprises - www.tickets.rugbyworldcup.com

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