THERE was a fleeting moment yesterday when Martin Johnson, for so long the unwavering and unbreakable strongman of English rugby, looked as though he might suddenly find himself in touch with his feminine side.
“It's still so raw,” he said, his voice cracking and weakening. “You put so much emotional energy into something like this and it's a risk, because by getting it wrong for 20 minutes – or even five seconds, as Scotland found out – you end up here, in an exit press conference. You certainly know you're alive when you're involved in high-level sport and that's why I like it, but this is a bitter disappointment.”
Johnson was speaking before the |latest off-the-pitch indiscretion by an England player became public.
Manu Tuilagi had been on a day-trip to Waiheke Island with some of his team-mates yesterday as they licked their wounds following Saturday's 19-12 quarter-final defeat to France.
As the ferry back to Auckland prepared to berth, Tuilagi jumped into the water and swam to a nearby pier where he was detained by police and taken to Auckland Central Police station. He was given a pre-charge warning for disorderly behaviour before being released.
The centre was later fined £3,000 by the RFU and admitted it was “a really stupid thing to do. I apologise for any inconvenience caused”.
It was another black mark on the least satisfactory England performance at a World Cup, but no senior members of the England coaching team believe the events of the past month will drive Johnson to quit.
”Now is the time to take stock, look at where Martin is in his role and start thinking about the next few years. It will be a robust review, but what we won't do is overreact one way or the other,” said RFU professional rugby director Rob Andrew.
The continuing political meltdown at the RFU appears to make Johnson's enforced departure unlikely, but some members want Nick Mallett, the ex-Springboks coach who brought Italy to this World Cup, involved with England.