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England ready for Autumn challenge

Martin Johnson insists England are the fittest they have been since he became manager after responding to the ever-increasing speed of the game.

The Rugby Football Union's elite department on Wednesday demonstrated the Global Positioning System monitors which have been used by England players in training for the past year. Johnson has already seen the benefits of a system that is also used by eight of the 12 Aviva Premiership clubs, both for training and during matches.

"The guys came in recently and were (fitness) tested and the results were the best since I've been here," he said. "Some of the guys had world-class statistics a year ago but others who weren't quite there have improved."

The devices enable Johnson and his coaching team to measure an individual's heart-rate, distance travelled and speed and can even detect if they are suffering from illness or carrying an injury.

Using the information, the week's training schedule is tailored to ensure players are not over or under exerted and that practice drills mimic the demands of rugby as much as possible.

He added: "Last summer I thought that we could improve our fitness in certain areas. It wasn't unsatisfactory a year ago, but it's definitely better now and it needs to be.

"You hear a lot from around the clubs that guys are in good shape and working harder. Fitness-wise we are up there now, but the key thing is what the score is when we play teams like New Zealand."

England have been forced to improve their conditioning as the intensity of matches, both international and in the Premiership, grows.

"We talked about it before the summer tour to Australia and New Zealand, but the players have to experience it for themselves," Johnson said. "Even in the midweek games the players were saying afterwards that it was the fastest pace they had experienced.

"What we've seen in the first two weeks of the Premiership has been great - the continuity in the games, the ability to keep the ball and run it, and the speed at the breakdown. The speed of the game has definitely increased - we saw it coming at the end of last season and during the summer tour."

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