England’s last three visits to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium have all ended in defeat and another reverse will deal a major blow to their hopes of winning a first Six Nations title since the Grand Slam in 2003 – when team manager Johnson was captain of a side that also lifted the World Cup later that year.
“Being an Englishman in Cardiff on that weekend means you aren’t the most popular, which is great. I’d rather have that than polite indifference,” Johnson told reporters at the squad’s training base here on Monday.
“They (Wales) want to beat England at rugby – that is not a secret and we want to win down there. It is a good occasion. We have to be ready when we do go and play. You want to play in the big games.”
Not since Johnson was captain have England won in the Welsh capital and up to a third of the side, including Ben Foden, Ben Youngs and Dan Cole, are in line to be playing their first Test at the Millennium Stadium.
Northampton winger Chris Ashton, who also is in line to play his first Test in Cardiff, said it was the prospect of matches such as Friday’s clash between two of rugby union’s oldest rivals that persuaded him to switch from rugby league back in 2007.
“This doesn’t happen in rugby league, you don’t get these kind of games,” explained Ashton, whose dramatic length of the field try against Australia at Twickenham in November was named as the International Rugby Players’ Association’s try of the year for 2010.
New Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive John Steele has effectively set England a target – or “realistic expectation” – of a top-two finish in the Six Nations.
England’s failure to win the Championship since 2003 has rankled their fans and delighted their opponents as, with the exception of title-holders France, no other European nation can match their playing resources
In the absence of injured flanker Lewis Moody, England are set to be captained by Mike Tindall although Johnson will not confirm either his skipper or his side until Wednesday’s team announcement.