Rugby World Cup final: England cannot be complacent after New Zealand victory - Johnson

By Becky GreyBBC Sport in Japan
Five members of England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup winning squad give advice to the 2019 side
Rugby World Cup final: England v South Africa
Venue: Yokohama International Stadium Date: Saturday, 2 November Kick-off: 09:00 GMT
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson says England must not be trapped into thinking a repeat of their semi-final performance will be enough to make them world champions on Saturday.

England, looking to lift the trophy for the first time since Johnson did so in 2003, face South Africa in the final.

Eddie Jones' team swept aside defending champions New Zealand in the semi, but Johnson hopes that victory has not made England complacent.

"Same again is the worst thing you can do," he said on BBC Radio 5 Live's Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

"I've been lecturing people in the street all week. They say, 'oh we just need to do the same thing on Saturday'.

"The massive trap for this team is thinking, 'turn up and do that again, we'll be all right'.

"It was the best performance of an England team ever in the semi-final. It will count for a lot less if they don't win on Saturday."

Johnson joined fellow members of the 2003 squad Jason Leonard, Mike Tindall, Matt Dawson and Paul Grayson for a special edition of the Rugby Union Weekly podcast, providing an insight into what the current England team will be experiencing before the final.

Before the 2003 final in Sydney, the walls of the England team room were plastered with letters from celebrities and the squad were visited by 1966 football World Cup winner George Cohen.

With all this going on, it would have been easy to get carried away, but Johnson says England must simply focus on the rugby.

"The key thing is that you are in the right frame of mind to play the game," he added.

"In 2003, the final week was almost the easiest week of the whole tournament.

"We weren't thinking about our lives being changed, we were thinking about beating Australia.

"You know it's a World Cup final, you know what's at stake but you're still playing a game of rugby. Don't play the occasion, play the game."

'Like a psychologist on a bit of A4'

Though England must not let the enormity of a World Cup final get on top of them, former England centre Tindall says "emotional drivers" can still be a powerful tool.

For ex-England scrum-half Matt Dawson, one source of emotional fuel back in 2003 came in the form of a letter from fly-half Paul Grayson.

Paul Grayson
BBC Radio 5 Live pundit Paul Grayson (left) was part of the World Cup winning squad in 2003, alongside Jason Leonard (right)

As well as playing for England, the pair also combined at Northampton for 11 years and, when the World Cup final came around, Grayson decided "there were things he wanted to say" to Dawson.

"I wrote him a little letter," Grayson explained. "You're only going to do that once and you might get it spectacularly wrong.

"It took a while to write. I contemplated it. The message was: you're in the right place, this is where you deserve to be.

"I wrote it, folded it up, stood outside his room and wondered whether to knock. I put it under the door and ran off.

"He didn't speak to me for 24 hours in the build-up to the game, he didn't make eye contact. I was assuming it had gone straight in the bin."

"I couldn't talk to him because I was crying like a baby," responded Dawson.

"The emotions behind it were just beyond anything. I was reading it and crying my eyes out.

"He was talking about specifics in our lives; good times, bad times, adversity.

"It's just like you would expect a psychologist to talk you through a game nowadays just on this one bit of A4."

Owen Farrell is a world-class player - Johnson

'Everyone was happy for each other'

England have perhaps been keeping a tight grip on their emotions at this World Cup so far, with understated celebrations following their dominant semi-final display against New Zealand.

But if they do find that perfect balance of emotion and precision on Saturday, the reaction at full-time will no doubt be very different.

Former prop Leonard recalls how the team responded in 2003, explaining that no-one was thinking of themselves because they were so "tight as a group".

"My abiding memory is not just the win, it was after the final where everyone was happy for each other," he said.

"Never did I once sit in that changing rooms and think, 'I won the World Cup'. I was chuffed for my team-mates and they were doing the same for me."

Advice from those who have been there

In the podcast, the five members of the 2003 squad were asked what advice they would give to the current England team before Saturday's game.

Here is what they said:

Martin Johnson: Just go and do what you do. Don't change because it's a final. You're good rugby players, so trust yourselves to make the call as you see it in the context of the game.

Jason Leonard: This is the reason you want to play rugby. You run out on the pitch and you've got the crowd - but it doesn't matter. You do the next job, you do that well. Then you go on to the next one and do that well.

Mike Tindall: Don't let nerves get in the way of this. Go out there and make sure this is the game you enjoy the most out of all the games you've played. Look at your team-mates and know that they've got your back and you've got theirs.

Matt Dawson: Have your eyes wide open to every single moment of that day. I wish I had a better memory of it because we were all so in it. It's a moment to cherish and one that they've trained for forever.

Paul Grayson: There are a lot worse seats to be sitting in in the world so enjoy the ride. It's one of the great days of your life. To be in the right kit in the right stadium is a treat, so enjoy it all.

For more stories from 2003, Listen to The 2003 Reunion Pod on BBC Sounds or here.

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