- Johnson talks to RFU.com about his Rugby World Cup training squad and their schedule
- Botha, Stevens, Tuilagi praised by for their compelling Premiership form
England Team Manager Martin Johnson believes that every player in his 45-man Rugby World Cup preliminary training squad has a chance of being on the plane to New Zealand come September.
Alongside England’s victorious RBS 6 Nations players, Johnson has named a series of newcomers such as lock Mouritz Botha, centre Manusamoa Tuilagi and wing Charlie Sharples, as well as international returnees prop Matt Stevens and hooker Lee Mears.
Speaking to RFU.com, the 2003 world cup winning skipper said there were tough decisions to be made but there was no value in naming players he wouldn’t be happy to select in a Rugby World Cup match.
"We wanted to keep the squad as tight as we could, we didn’t want to bring guys in who didn’t have a genuine chance of a seat on the plane," Johnson said.
"It’s been competitive, we could’ve brought in another 10 guys. I told the players last night ‘there are 10 or 12 players who could be here just as easily as you are so make the most of the opportunity. You deserve to be here but understand how competitive it is.’
"It’s a chance to do a whole pre-season together as a squad. The players know what the end target is and we can progress them through their physical work and their rugby work to full contact rugby and then games.
"It’s a great progression to work through and to do it with the best players, the best coaches and with the biggest target in rugby at the end just adds to the intensity."
Compelling Premiership performances
Photo: Getty Images
The squad have now started three-weeks of intense work at Pennyhill Park, Bagshot, followed by a week off, and then another two-week period of training ahead of the Investec International against Wales at Twickenham Stadium on August 6.
Johnson is looking forward to seeing the quality and intensity of work by his training group, which includes Saracens pair Botha and Stevens – who returns after a three-year hiatus – and dynamic Samoa-born centre Tuilagi.
He said each deserves recognition for their performances in the Aviva Premiership, adding: "Matt [Stevens] is an experienced prop, can play both sides, has 30 caps, is mobile and suits the modern game very well. He’s worked very hard to get back, to start for Sarries and to win a Championship there but now he’s got the chance to work again and have a shot at the 30 [man final squad].
"Mouritz is another hard working player on the field, huge work rate, big physicality and big impact. He’s a guy I’ve had my eye on for a while and he deserves the opportunity. His story is a good one, he came over here and played junior rugby and has got himself in a position that maybe he thought he never would.
"Manu Tuilagi also deserved to come in, he probably would’ve played for the Saxons a bit if he hadn’t been banned but his form in the Premiership was compelling. He’s always wanted to come and play for England and deserves a shot – he’s had a fantastic year."