World Cup - Johnson: We only have ourselves to blame

Sat, 08 Oct 15:17:00 2011

England brought World Cup quarter-final defeat on themselves with a series of little errors and by once again leaving themselves so much to do, a bitterly disappointed Martin Johnson said.

Toby Flood upset v France - 0

The England coach reckoned his side had created more chances than the victorious French at Eden Park in the 19-12 defeat, and that their biggest disappointment was that they felt the match had been winnable.

"I think today we created more chances to score than they did, strange as that sounds when you've got beaten," a grim-faced Johnson said after France's first win over England in a World Cup knockout match.

"We had three or four clear-cut chances that went missing and the difference is they took theirs and they took them early.

"I'm just disappointed for all the players, particularly the ones who won't get a chance again, because these are great opportunities to get somewhere special and we haven't taken it."

While the French, beaten twice in the group stages, go on to face Wales in the semis next weekend following their 22-10 win over the Irish, England prepare to fly home.

The reason for that, Johnson said, was that they had given themselves too steep a second-half mountain to climb, having gone in 16-0 down at half-time.

"The guys were confident at half-time that they could fight their way back into the game... but we just left ourselves a little bit too much to do," Johnson said.

"We left ourselves a lot to do in three games here. In two games we managed it, today we didn't.

"We turned the ball over a couple of times in their 22 in the second half and if we'd retained it we'd really be building pressure and momentum. But there was a knock-on and that was the story of the night... just those mistakes just killed our momentum and they put theirs away early.

"So I am proud of the way the guys fought back in the second half and their effort was fantastic but it is ultimately a game where you come off and you feel it was winnable, but we left ourselves with far too much to do which is brutal...

"One right before half-time would have made a huge difference to the game going in 16-5 or 16-7 but we didn't get it in so you're chasing the game.

"It is composure at key times, isn't it? We lost our composure at times. A key period -- we've talked about it -- when we're on the rack a little bit. They scored and we put the ball straight out, and you're suddenly inviting them back on you and then a poor kick-off which they were able to run back at us and we're not stemming the bleeding at that point, we're opening the wounds a little bit more."

Johnson said the most painful factor was that the players knew it was a game England could have won.

"They are bitterly disappointed because they know they have let a game go... a team they are good enough to have beaten, their performance today didn't let them do it.

"France ultimately deserved to win. So that's the difficult thing. But that is what World Cups are -- we talked about that: one team goes home with a smile and for everyone else it ends in tears."

Meanwhile, France coach Marc Lievremont lauded but said they must not waste the opportunity it has created for them.

France rallied from a poor pool phase and a defeat by Tonga last week to beat England and set up the return to Eden Park next weekend to play Wales for a place in the final.

"It was a very emotional evening," he said. "I'm extremely proud, very happy. It's a beautiful end to the week but the whole week has been exhilarating. Many beautiful things have happened and I'm delighted."

Lievremont has been much under-fire, both from the French media and, if reports can be believed, inside his own camp, but he said he did not feel the victory was a vindication for him.

"Absolutely not," he said. "I promised to myself that I wouldn't be bitter or sour, this is just happiness, it's simply happiness."

France captain Thierry Dusautoir compared the evening at Eden Park to the shock quarter-final victory over New Zealand at the 2007 tournament.

"The situation is very different but the feeling is just as intense," he said. "We might not have won against the best team in the world, but we showed that we could play good rugby and be proud of wearing the jersey."

The flanker, who had an excellent game and led his pack to their best performance at the tournament, said last week's defeat by Tonga had been a real "eye-opener".

"I think most of us realised that we were missing out on an extraordinary opportunity, to be here, to play in the World Cup for our country," he said. "It's a once in a lifetime experience.

"The defeat to Tonga helped us realise what was going on ... I don't know whether today we played an extraordinary game or beautiful rugby but we had 22 French players who really wanted to go on in this competition."

France's most memorable performances at World Cups have been the victories over the All Blacks in 2007 and 1999 as well as their brilliant semi-final win over Australia in 1987.

All three were followed by defeats in the next match and Lievremont said his team should not similarly waste the chance presented by a stirring victory.

"Tonight the players have really performed, they've executed, they've done their part of the deal, they've played as well as past generations," he remarked.

"In the past we've seen French teams transcend themselves when faced with strong opposition and they have given their best and after that they failed.

"So we'll see whether this team want to do the same as past generations or this team wants to write their own story."

Reuters

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