Saturday 16 December 2017

England pay penalty for appointing flawed Johnson


Sean Diffley

When Scotland beat the confident English at Murrayfield in 1990 to deprive the visitors of what was considered a 'dead cert' of a Grand Slam, it was a shock commensurate with Tipperary Tim winning the Aintree Grand National at 100/1. And the English fans, that day?

An Edinburgh policeman said: "They have been very timid. No trouble. A lot of them have brought red roses, but that's for their wreaths tonight."

Of course Martin Johnson wasn't on that English team, he didn't inaugurate his playing career until three years later.

His decision now to retire as coach and manager of England after three and a half years of an inauspicious reign has, I imagine, been a source of temptation to most English fans still harbouring red wreaths after the World Cup, to place them with gusto on a farewell memorial to Johnson.

With English rugby in such trouble, it surpasses all comprehension that Twickenham should be so out of kilter that they employed Johnson in the first place.

Many of those who played with him in his 84 appearances for England, and, indeed, many who opposed him, speak of him as a great lock, but none refer to his frequent thuggish displays. He has been sent off and suspended, once notably when he kicked a New Zealand scrum-half in the back.

A notable suspension by Twickenham came in 2001 but, incredibly, the England RFU decreed that Johnson's suspension should end on the day before the first Five Nations match against Wales in Cardiff.

England, of course, selected Johnson and, lo and behold, England beat Wales by 44-15.

Of course, there have been plenty of individual acts of illegal violence on the rugby fields, but I know of nobody who has got away with such consistent blackguardism as Johnson.

England's rugby population is great, almost equalling a combination of the other top-playing countries -- so Twickenham having being trying to figure out what is wrong witht heir game. Certainly trying to solve it with the asinine appointment of Johnson was a mistake.

I am convinced that if a captain of any other country had behaved as Johnson did to Mary McAleese at Lansdowne Road, his rugby authorities would make sure he never played for his country again.

I don't know why England players behaved badly in New Zealand at the World Cup, but I would point to my own experience covering Lions tours where I found English players in the past, the old amateur days, to be among the most decent in the squads.

As for Irish rugby, it's doing well, isn't it? Ronan 0'Gara's winning drop goal against Northampton will go down among our great moments and perhaps now his status will get the respect it deserves.

The All Black's Dan Carter has his worshippers, but in my far from humble opinion the two best out-halves in world rugby now are 0'Gara and Jonny Sexton.

Irish Independent

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