Martin Johnson Names His Toughest Opponents And Best Ever Teammate
Martin Johnson implored England not to get overawed by the occasion of a World Cup Final on Saturday.
Eddie Jones' men face South Africa in the showpiece finale in Yokohama and are looking to win rugby's greatest prize for the second time in their history.
Johnson captained the Red Rose to glory at the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, where they lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy after a dramatic 20-17 win over the hosts, following Jonny Wilkinson's dramatic last gasp drop-goal.
That famous night in Sydney was Johnson's 84th and final international cap after a stellar career that included playing in three World Cups.
And he recalls his second tournament in 1999, when they were soundly beaten by South Africa in the quarter-finals in Paris.
Speaking exclusively to SPORTbible, Johnson said: "In my second World Cup in 1999, we built it up so big that when we got there, it became almost too big to play.
"England have got to not overthink it too much, just play rugby. They need to do their preparation for the game as normal, then just go and play it. Otherwise you can spend hours and hours of having nervous energy building up."
He added: "They're one-off games and you've got to hit the mark.
"Anything can happen on any given day and you've got to react. The good teams still find a way to win even with a bit of bad luck.
"Experience helps you a lot. My last World Cup campaign, we had a large group of guys who had experience, so that does count for something if you use it in the right way."
England took down the mighty All Blacks in stunning style in the semis last weekend, and their run to the final represents a remarkable turnaround from four years ago.
Back in 2015, the Red Rose were dumped out in the group stage on home soil after defeats by Australia and Wales at Twickenham.
Saturday's clash will be their fourth World Cup final and second against South Africa after losing to the Springboks in 2007 at the Stade de France.
Johnson explained: "It's a deeper England team than in 2015 in terms of squad depth. They've just played better and are more settled.
"It's not a huge difference, not as much as you think. When you're losing and winning, you're never that far away from the other.
"Rugby is a team game - you can't have one or two guys just win the game for you. Particularly in the forwards, if you're not there for each other physically then people get hurt.
"Fortunately I played with a lot of people who were world class in their positions and that makes it relatively easy and makes you look good.
"There were lots of guys I played against who were fantastic players but nobody knew it because they were in a team that was struggling and it was hard to shine."
The former England captain continued: "A guy like Jonah Lomu could do things that nobody could do and change games.
"We played New Zealand in a really tight pool game in 1999 and we were getting on top of them, then he ran 60 yards and scored a try.
"Nobody else on the field could've scored that try and they went on to win the game. But even he needed his teammates... sometimes he didn't."
"The game has changed a bit since then. This New Zealand team, Carter and Richie McCaw were two massive pieces for them and they've kept on winning without them. That's testament to often you see a team and the depth of players they produce. rise and fall. they've got consistency of coaching. We'd have to play them, BUT WE'RE All a bit old, give us six weeks training."
"I think a guy like Jason Robinson was pretty unique. He had the ability to beat a guy, and games become a bit of a slug fest and whey you've got a guy with the ability to beat a defensive line. He'll always be an asset to any team. Ben in 03 was world class. Big power runner, was always a danger, can score a good try against most teams."
Martin Johnson was speaking as a HEINEKEN ambassador. HEINEKEN is a Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.