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LIONHEARTS; WITH RUGBY: ENGLAND COACH HAILS BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS: New boys would get Lions call-up: They've talent and ambition..: But I've said don't get comfortable!


MARTIN JOHNSON is backing his young Lions to restore England's glory days.

Manager Johnson made a rocky start to his reign in June 2008, poor results fuelling fears that being a World Cup winning captain might not be enough to make a successful international boss.

But Johnson did it his way, rebuilding his squad and blooding six of the best - a thrilling group of young talents from Leicester and Northampton, who helped England share a series 1-1 with Australia in June and set Twickenham alight during last month'''s Autumn Tests.

Johnson admitted: "If a Lions squad was being named next week, a number of England guys would be in there on merit.

"I was very excited by their progress because they've gone out there and tried to play in every Test in the very best company there is.

"They work so hard and want to learn and improve. And they listen to our coaches and actually enjoy developing.

"For example, we warned about kicking loose ball to Francois Steyn of South Africa in his 22 because he can hurt you from miles out. Near the end we got careless, hoofed a ball to him and he nearly scored. The boys discussed that in depth afterwards. They remembered. "I am impressed with the way all the young boys stepped up to the plate, all of them showing their talent and their ambition.

"But I have also reminded them that their place in the England team is on a game-to -game basis.

"They must never feel comfortable in the squad because that's when someone hungrier comes along and takes your place."

Johnson knows his team started too slowly against New Zealand and made too many individual errors against South Africa.

"But they thrilled HQ in a record hammering of Australia - the visitors only defeat in five European Tests - and delivered a hard-nosed win over hyperphysical Samoa. He added: "We would have a good idea of our team if the World Cup was next month. But it's ten months away, and that's a very long time in Rugby Union.

"There will be changes in the squad before our opening Test against Argentina in September, it is inevitable.

"Form and fitness come into it.We play eight more internationals before the World Cup, plenty of time for more players to stake a claim for selection. Do we have to win the Six Nations to win to win the World Cup? No. But we want to win it because it's overdue. No title since 2003 is not good enough.

"And I believe a number of teams could win the World Cup. Who gave England a prayer going into 2007, yet we reached the final and lost a tight game to South Africa.

"How often have New Zealand ruled the world going into a World Cup, only to see someone else crowned world champions? It's knockout rugby, all about you on the day.

"England are now a better squad than they were on November 5, the day before that first Autumn game against New Zealand. The experience from this series is priceless."

2 DAN COLE and the Leicester pack were dominant in their 23-14 win at London Irish to take them into second place in the Aviva Premiership.

Thomas Waldrom scored their try.

Johnno's 'A' graders Ben Foden Age: 25 Pos: Full-back Club: Northampton Johnno says: Running game excellent, and very strong under the high ball.

Chris Ashton Age: 23 Pos: Wing Club: North'pton Johnno says: Real predator whose game has improved hugely in a year.

Dan Cole Age: 23 Pos: Prop forward Club: Leicester Johnno says: Quietly maturing into a real class tighthead and carrier.

Ben Youngs Age: 21 Pos: Scrum-half Club: Leicester Johnno says: Dealt superbly with the huge post-tour expectations.

Courtney Lawes Age: 21 Pos: Lock/flanker Club: North'pton Johnno says: A powerful young, talented force, who is maturing rapidly.

Dylan Hartley Age: 24 Pos: Hooker Club: North'pton Johnno says: Growing as a leader. His overall game is developing fast.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 5, 2010
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