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England can learn lesson from 2002


Martin Johnson, pictured, led England to World Cup glory in 2003

Martin Johnson, pictured, led England to World Cup glory in 2003

Martin Johnson, pictured, led England to World Cup glory in 2003

England's World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson says Stuart Lancaster's team can take a lesson from history as they prepare to launch their autumn international series with the visit of New Zealand.

The reigning world champions present a tough start for England but Johnson believes they can draw encouragement from his team's 31-28 victory at Twickenham in 2002.

Clive Woodward's England survived a late fightback to launch their autumn Test series with only their fifth-ever victory over the All Blacks to set them on the road to winning the World Cup 12 months later.

Johnson, speaking in Leicester at an England 2015 'Try Outs' selection event to find the 6,000 volunteers for next year's World Cup, told Press Association Sport: "If England can beat the All Blacks at any time it's a big thing but it's tough to play them in the first game.

"England haven't played together for a long time, compared to them. That's their advantage. You've just got to go out and get used to the intensity of Test matches pretty quickly.

"It was the same in '02. We played the All Blacks in the first game and we hadn't played a Test match together for over six months at that point. It took us over half the match to get into the game and that was with a very experienced team.

"They are always good and the more you can be exposed to playing against them the better it is."

England also play South Africa, Australia and Samoa over the next month but will have home advantage, as they will for all but one of their World Cup fixtures, and Johnson believes that could be crucial.

"England have gone well against New Zealand," he said. "They won a couple of years ago and they've played at a decent level against them.

"As a team, all you can do is go out and try and play as well as you can. Against the All Blacks, that might not be good enough because they're exceptional.

"It's about putting yourself in with a chance and then getting over the line in the last 10 or 15 minutes like they did in 2012.

"Like any team, if we play at our absolute best, we will be in with a shout against anyone, particularly at Twickenham. And then it's about finishing. Lot of teams get close - look at Wales against Australia - but you've got to be able to finish."

Lancaster is without a number of established internationals through injury but Johnson believes the England head coach has the luxury of strength in depth and sees Saturday's game as a golden opportunity for fringe players to make a claim for a regular spot, highlighting Bath's former Newcastle prop Dave Wilson as a prime candidate.

"There are injuries but, as everyone says, it gives other guys a chance to come in and play," Johnson added.

"I think the good thing, where England are now, is there's a bit more depth of those players having the experience of playing against the big teams in the last two or three years.

"It's now up to the players to get themselves into the team and, wherever they are as a player, to be on the next rung or two in a year's time.

"They need to really improve their performance so that when Stuart Lancaster is picking a squad next August he is finding it really tough to narrow it down to 30 or 31 or whatever it is. He wants to have hard choices to make.

"It's about opportunities and Dave Wilson has got a huge opportunity at tight-head prop.

"We had Dave in the squad when I was there and he just hasn't played enough rugby. He has massive potential, probably more than he realises, He has got the potential to be a top-class tight-head prop and there isn't many of those about.

"It's a real opportunity for him to go against the best and have a real good run at, not filling Dan Cole's shoes, but to become England's tight-head prop."

After mingling with the last batch of 700 potential volunteers at the University of Leicester, Johnson admitted their infectious enthusiasm is starting to rub off as he considers taking his family to World Cup matches at nearby Villa Park, which will host games involving Australia and South Africa.

"I'm thinking of taking the kids there to watch a game," he said.

"I haven't been there since 1979 when Liverpool lost 3-1 - I need to get a good experience."

:: Martin Johnson was speaking at the Rugby World Cup 2015 volunteer 'Try Outs' in Leicester. Remaining RWC 2015 match tickets will go on sale November 28, at tickets.rugbyworldcup.com.