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Page last updated at 22:33 GMT, Saturday, 8 November 2008

Johnson passes first test

James Standley
BBC Sport at Twickenham

Delon Armitage
Delon Armitage provided one of the highlights of England's performance
So England's latest, and hopefully brightest, new dawn began with a comfortable victory over the Pacific Islanders.

It was an awkward, low-key fixture to kick off Martin Johnson's reign at a two-thirds full Twickenham.

The Pacific Islanders have many fine players but it is essentially a scratch side and they will always suffer for the lack of time they spend together preparing for matches.

Win convincingly and you merely match expectations, lose and the protective bubble afforded Johnson as captain of a World Cup-winning side may begin to deflate quicker than the housing market.

At the end there was a general feeling that it had been a satisfactory day's work, with a ready acknowledgement from both coaching staff and players that they will need to improve in the trio of matches that loom against the southern hemisphere giants.

Among the positives for England were a bright display by scrum-half Danny Care and an impressive debut by full-back Delon Armitage, who was named man of the match and told by Johnson it was the most impressive debut he had seen.

Paul Sackey (l) and Ugo Monye
Paul Sackey ran in England's first try in an assured performance
His words could equally have applied to himself, because the new England boss was pretty much note perfect in his first game in charge.

A bold selection paid dividends, with five news caps introduced, while the half-time team talk helped calm the nerves - Johnson admitted England had been "tentative" initially - and led to a much-improved second-half display from his side.

There were also promising signs of England finding balance in their approach, with drives around the fringes and high kicks mixed in with fluid passing down the line to bring in the rapid back three.

Johnson has been at pains to play down the significance one man should have, pointing out that the entire coaching staff have a role to play in preparing the side and that ultimately it is down to the players how well England do.

Johnson's England are barely into the foothills of a journey whose target is a World Cup final in Auckland in just under three years time

But for all his wise words Johnson knows he is expected to be the figurehead England have been so sorely lacking for the past few years.

Reaching the 2007 final was an amazing achievement but it seemed to happen despite, rather than because of, the system and came on the back of a dispiriting four years.

The 12 months since have also featured more lows than highs and so the story of Saturday's match, for all Armitage's heroics, was always going to be how Johnson fared in his first game.

He was sure-footed in the post-match news conference and although the win undoubtedly helped, his confident, no nonsense approach bodes well for the harder days to come.

Having been asked his first question he embarked on a comprehensive answer which encompassed England's tentative start, the need to bed in the new combinations, praise for the debutants and a considered analysis of why the hosts had to raise the tempo in the second half, which left just a few technicalities to mull over.

The worst part of the game came near the end of the first half, as England forwards plodded into position to be fed the ball by Care as they tried, in vain, to generate some front-foot ball for the backs.

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It looked horribly reminiscent of many leaden-footed displays over the past few years, but the problem was sorted at the interval and Johnson was refreshingly honest when asked about it afterwards.

"Maybe we slowed the ball down at times when we didn't need to," he said, adding that they had asked the team to lift the tempo and they had responded.

Johnson's England are barely into the foothills of a journey whose target is a World Cup final in Auckland in just under three years.

But they now have three vitally important games against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and those results will have a direct bearing on the seedings for the World Cup.

It is a hugely difficult start for Johnson and his new England side but on Saturday they passed their first test with sufficient confidence to suggest brighter times lie ahead.



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see also
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Autumn internationals - as it happened
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International photos
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England call up uncapped quartet
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Pick your England XV
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Jeremy Guscott column
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No fears over Hartley - Johnson
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Abendanon to miss England Tests
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Simpson-Daniel out of Test plans
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Comeback display pleases Cipriani
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Cipriani and Flutey land awards
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Rugby union on the BBC
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