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Stuart Lancaster calls on England to take next step ahead of autumn internationals

Updated: Tuesday, 06 Nov 2012 10:50 | Comments

England are preparing to meet Australia, South Africa and world champions New Zealand
England are preparing to meet Australia, South Africa and world champions New Zealand

Stuart Lancaster has delivered a strong statement of intent as he backed England to meet their biggest challenge since he took over as head coach last December.

Lancaster righted a lilting England ship after the Rugby World Cup and delivered second place in the RBS 6 Nations championship with a new-look team.

England learned some brutal lessons on the summer tour of South Africa but responded to two defeats with a 14-14 draw in the third Test in Port Elizabeth.

And Lancaster is confident his young charges can take another step forward as they enter the QBE autumn internationals.

After tackling Fiji in front of a packed house at Twickenham this Saturday, England will meet Australia, South Africa and world champions New Zealand on successive weekends.

"This challenge against the top three in the world is the strongest one we have faced," Lancaster said.

"We are confident. We have prepared well. I've said to the players it's production time now.

"We've got some continuity, we've got some consistency in terms of selection and the coaching team and we've spent some time together.

"The foundations are strong. Now we want to deliver."

England wilted under the Springbok intensity for key spells in both of the first two Tests on the summer tour.

But England's response in Port Elizabeth, when they drew 14-14 but should have won, is what fuels Lancaster's confidence.

"I know the level we played at in South Africa and we are going to have to step up from that to get the results we want from this series," said flanker Tom Johnson.

"Unless you go after them you can't stop them. We are going to try and be proactive and take the game to them and not sit back and take it.

"We have got to try and lay down that foundation and make Twickenham the fortress it once was."

Johnson, the Exeter flanker, was among those who experienced a baptism of fire on the tour of South Africa but he emerged with three caps to his name and his reputation enhanced.

"I learned about the intensity of Test rugby in terms of how it can be turned on and how the small mistakes can cost you," Johnson said.

"It has given me a little bit of confidence to play in three Tests over there and I am now not the new boy."
Johnson feels he has developed his own game since returning from South Africa, fitting into Exeter's more expansive approach by becoming more of a link man than just a ball carrier.

"I have to try and keep pushing my game on and keep improving," said Johnson, aware he is battling for the England blindside flanker jersey with Tom Wood and Phil Dowson.

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