England manager Martin Johnson says his side’s summer tour has left them in much-improved shape to take on the southern hemisphere teams this autumn.
Tom Fordyce, BBC
England host the All Blacks on 6 November before also playing Australia, South Africa and Samoa.
Johnson said: “The guys have tested the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here.
“The great thing in the summer was they saw it, they felt it, they played it. Now more of the guys understand what it takes to win at Test level.”
England lost the first Test of the tour 27-17 before fighting back to level the series with a 21-20 win in Sydney, their first victory in Australia since 2003.
Johnson added: “You have to demonstrate to yourself that you can do it. Teams will always get points on you because they are good teams, but it’s coming through that and finding ways to win.
“We had six players in Sydney who made their Test match debuts that season, so we have some very young guys who now have a good understanding of what it takes.
“You can talk to guys about it – until they go out there and experience it, even those midweek games on tour, they don’t really know what they’re getting into with Test match rugby.
“The guys who get it will be the ones who make it. If you don’t, you won’t.
Ben Youngs was one of the big positives from England’s summer tour
“To be close is one thing, but to actually to get across the line is a big step. For us success is about lots of little steps, and winning that game in Australia was an important one.”
9/25 UNDER JOHNSON
Under Johnson England have won just nine of 25 games; in the corresponding fixtures last autumn they lost 18-9 to Australia and 19-6 to the All Blacks. But Johnson insists he is not intimidated by history or the standard of rugby played by the southern hemisphere teams in this summer’s Tri Nations.
“Not every game has been 40-30. When we play them here in November the conditions will be different.
“What we’ve talked about as a side is that we have to be able to go into Test match intensity right from the start. The stuff we’ve seen in the first two weeks of the Premiership has been great – the ability to win the ball that much quicker at the breakdown – and the game has got faster, which is what you want to see as guys come into Test matches.
“We have to hit the field with full Test match intensity and execution – when you play guys who can score points that quickly, you have to be on the pace from the first whistle.
“New Zealand haven’t lost a game in Britain or Ireland for eight-odd years. It’s no bad thing that we play them first – we’ve played them last in the past two years and it’s been our best performance of the autumn.”
Last season Johnson found his first-choice XV decimated by injuries picked up in the early weeks of the Premiership season. But he says that unfortunate series of events has left his squad in far better shape a year on.
“We’ve got as better depth now. We want the same core of players available from series to series, because if you keep starting again it’s really tough – but the injuries last autumn brought guys into the fold.
“We know our squad far better, in terms of who we’ve got and where they are, but there are still places to be fought for this autumn and beyond to the World Cup. Who would have said this time last year that Dan Cole, Chris Ashton and Ben Youngs would be where they are today?
“The guys need to concentrate on their club form, but be mindful that they’re Test match players. Their standards have to be Test match standards whenever they train and compete.”