Gatland backs Johnson to do well for England

Wales coach Warren Gatland has said England must learn from their experience with World Cup winning supremo Clive Woodward and give Martin Johnson time to develop as their manager.

England have lost eight of their 14 Tests since Johnson was appointed to the post of team manager without any previous coaching experience in 2008.

Wales will look to add to those tally of defeats next month when they begin their Six Nations campaign at Twickenham in search of a third straight win over England — something they last achieved more than 20 years ago.

“I hope England give him some time,” Gatland said of Johnson after announcing Wales’s squad for the Six Nations on Monday.

“It has been tough for Martin. Everyone knows what a great player he has been.

“He was given an opportunity to coach international rugby and he probably thought it was a chance he thought he could not turn down.”

Having taken a gamble on Johnson’s ability to transfer the skills that made him their 2003 World Cup-winning captain to beyond the touchline, without the benefit of any evidence, England have little option but to stick with him throughout the team’s involvement in next year’s World Cup in New Zealand.

Otherwise the likes of former England fly-half Rob Andrew, now the director of elite rugby at the Rugby Football Union, will have their own positions called into question.

Woodward said “judge me on the World Cup” ahead of the 1999 edition in France only for England to lose to South Africa in the quarterfinals.

But four years later England, having persevered with Woodward, were world champions after beating hosts Australia in a thrilling extra-time final.

“Clive Woodward was given a lot of time, with some ups and downs,” Gatland added.

Gatland sees similarities between England and Wales’s situations in that both countries are struggling to get club teams into the last eight of this season’s European Cup.

“There are two countries going into the Six Nations at the moment a little bit concerned about where their teams are,” the New Zealander said.

“Potentially, you have four French pool winners and two Irish winners in the European Cup, although Leicester, Northampton and the Ospreys and London Irish have a chance.

“That is not just a concern for England, it has to be a concern for Wales as well,” former Ireland coach Gatland added.

Wales will head into the Six Nations without their two senior scrum-halves as the British and Irish Lions duo of Dwayne Peel (groin) and Mike Phillips (ankle) are both injured.

Peel sustained his injury playing for English club Sale during their European Cup pool defeat by Cardiff Blues last weekend and now it seems the Scarlets’ 23-year-old Martin Roberts will be lining up in the key scrum-half position for his first Six Nations start at Twickenham on February 6.

“We are not 100% sure how long Dwayne is going to be out for,” said Gatland. “We are just going to assess him over the next few weeks and, when he is back fully fit, we will make a decision on him.”

Wales and England suffered disappointing November international home series with both nations well beaten by New Zealand and Australia.

Looking ahead to their Six Nations opener, Gatland said: “This is a huge game for both sides. A victory for either team will give a huge amount of confidence and give you a chance to win the Six Nations Championship.”

Gatland urged Wales to follow the example of Ireland, who won a Six Nations grand slam last year and ended an unbeaten 2009 with a win over world champions South Africa.

“The Welsh love to be underdogs,” he said. “At times, we still struggle to cope with the favourites’ tag.

“The Irish have crossed that bridge, and I know that, having been involved there and spoken to a lot of their players.

“You want to be installed as favourites for every game. As a New Zealander, I know the way that I have taken losses and criticism, and I need to see how the Welsh react.” — AFP

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