Ashley Johnson believes Wasps’ improved defensive mentality has inspired their perfect start to the Aviva Premiership Rugby season, but admits it will be severely tested against Saracens on Sunday.
South African hooker Johnson praised new defence coach Phil Blake for ensuring Wasps’ defence has more ‘bite’ than in years gone by.
Despite dominating Harlequins in a 47-18 win at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday, Johnson said head coach Dai Young was unimpressed by his side’s defensive intensity at half-time, but a stern talking to at the break helped them to score 21 points in the second half, while shutting out Quins.
And the 30-year-old hooker, who can also do a turn in the back-row, is adamant that his side must take that second-half performance to Allianz Park if they are to stand any chance against Saracens.
“It is going to be a great battle and if we are to beat Saracens we have to be better than the last five weeks,” Johnson explained.
“We got a bit of a telling off at half-time against Harlequins, I know we were scoring tries and had a bonus point, but we weren’t happy with our defence at that point. We just had to get off the line quicker.
“When we have all this attacking flair and power, you can concentrate on attack and get into the mindset that if they score a try we can score another, but you end up putting pressure on yourself.
“We said to ourselves that defence wins championships and that is the sort of mindset we want to have. We want a good, balanced attack, but also bite in defence.
“We are going to need that this weekend against a strong, balanced Saracens side that have one of the best defences in the league.
“Phil has come in and has brought something new, a new mindset and we are a year older – everyone is trying to get better and up their game.
“Not just collectively, but in their one-on-one tackling. It does help that there are guys waiting to take your spot. The boys are really hungry.”
Johnson started for Wasps on their last visit to Allianz Park, where they claimed a famous 64-23 win against Mark McCall’s side.
Tommy Taylor has been Young’s go-to man at hooker for four of their five Aviva Premiership fixtures this year, and Johnson is happy to do a job from the bench – especially if it means another win in North London.
“Allianz Park last year was a special day and a special game of rugby, the sort that don’t happen very often in your career,” Johnson explained.
“But it is a new game this weekend, a lot can change in seven days and certainly in a season.
“I am under no illusions, Tommy is a great, great player – an up and coming, young English hooker who is playing well, I have no squabbles coming off the bench and doing my job.
“We are happy with the five wins, but we aren’t taking anything for granted and coming into this weekend we know how strong Saracens are; they are the team to beat over the past few years.”