There’s an element of God returning to his heaven at Twickenham this weekend as Martin Johnson leads England into battle for the first time since his investiture as team manager seven months ago. There needn’t be, Johnson doesn’t need to be God, a mere Messiah would do.
The former captain finds his country at a pretty low ebb, not as low as when Andy Robinson led it up a blind alley but pretty low nonetheless. Memories of the 12-game winning streak over Southern Hemisphere sides are just that - memories and distant ones too, indeed England have trouble beating anyone from any hemisphere these days - even Scotland have registered recent successes and the Red Rose has wilted virtually beyond recognition.
In accepting all this, however, there is a danger of believing that Johnson’s presence is all England need to once more bestride the Six Nations like the Colossus their resources demand.
The last time Johnson had anything to do with the national side they won the World Cup and as much as that was down to Jonny Wilkinson it was also down to the Great Man. Wilkinson’s drop goal took the headlines but he only kicked it because his skipper had assumed responsibility to carry the fly half one phase closer and he was scared of what Johnson might say if he missed.
The truth is rather more prosaic. Lawrence Dallaglio believes England need to be fitter to compete against the Tri Nations countries, while anyone with a brain can see they need to approach a better balanced gameplan with more conviction than mere lip service.
In that respect fly half Danny Cipriani will be as important a character as Johnson. With Wilko edging closer to over and out - he’s predictably banged up once again, the young Wasps play maker is the catalyst to ensure new attack coach Brian Smith’s pretty patterns are daubed onto Johnson’s canvas with purposeful brush strokes.
There will be slips along the way, though it won’t always be the case Cipriani is currently as liable to have a kick charged down as make the match-winning break or pass and for that reason Smith is an inspired choice to work with the threequarters.
It quite simply had to be an Australian. Just as Steve Meehan has proved at Bath English coaches have stagnated in terms of offensive creativity and the world game requires a different view. That makes both Smith and Cipriani every bit as important as Johnson.
Then of course there’s the man who must get the ball to Cipriani, Danny Care. The young Harlequin was given a harsh lesson in life on the summer tour to New Zealand but far from being damaged by his exposure to the Long White storm Clouds (correct) he has moved his game on to another level.
There are those who prattle on about Harry Ellis being the more dependable and physical option at scrum-half but if Cipriani and his threequarters are to be liberated it all starts with that first link between backs and forwards.
Care is an incredibly incisive sniper and kicks, passes and tackles sufficiently well to outweigh Ellis’ claims. That, therefore, means Care, Smith and Cipriani are as important as Johnson.
But surely the men who win Care the ball are as significant, what about the guys who capitalise on Cipriani’s work? With the exception of Jamie Noon, whose inclusion in the stead of the injured James Simpson-Daniel leaves one feeling more than a tad deflated, England have assembled a potentially sparkling back line. Aren’t they the real key?
Enough of such facetiousness. Clearly everyone in the England set-up has as equally significant role as anyone else. Team England will only function as well as the weakest unit and that’s where Johnson’s real ability comes in - making the complicated seem simple.
Jonno’s greatest asset as a player was clarity of thought in the heat of battle.
He’ll need that again, without the stimulus of a Springbok trying to dismember his person, if his new England are to attain what should be a bare minimum three victories from their four games against the Tri Nations and the Pacific Islanders.