Rugby Union: England Manager Martin Johnson Resigns

Ball In Touch special: Our rugby correspondant Jeff Ball discusses how with the clock ticking down, England Team Manager Martin Johnson decided to fall on his own sword today, rather than be potentially pushed onto it at a review meeting with the RFU tomorrow

The man who led England to World Cup victory on the pitch in 2003 failed to lead his current crop of players to anything like the heights of those golden years at the recent World Cup and resigned from his position as England Team Manager €œin the best interests of English rugby.€ With his contract up next month, after three and a half years in charge, even life€™s most optimistic souls would have been struggling to construct a winning argument for it being extended. Since the return from the incident strewn trip to New Zealand, a tidal wave of criticism and reviews has been directed Johnson€™s way, much of it focussed upon his seeming lack of ability to control a bunch of players most of whom really should have known better. With the pool games in full flow, it seemed not a day would go by without another incident bringing the England team onto the front pages instead of the back. Johnson manfully battled against the negativity, taken it all on his broad shoulders and trying to focus on the rugby in the face of a vociferous media. The recent development of the (overly dramatic) axing by the RFU of England captain Mike Tindall from the elite playing squad, a move at the age of 33 that seemingly ends his international career, is the latest indictment of Johnson€™s reign. Tindall, also fined £25,000 for his part in a drunken night out in Queenstown (the one with the alleged dwarf tossing), could not be convinced to apologies publicly for his behaviour by Johnson, an act of inexperience that appears to have been the final nail in the coffin for those reviewing the campaign. Despite the actions of some of his players the words have been full of praise, with many voicing their wish for him to stay. But it wasn€™t to be and after much thought, as is the mark of the man whose intelligence and willingness to consider things belie his more fearsome eyebrows led image, Johnson stepped down. On reflection it is not surprising England did not trot off into the sunset with the William Webb Ellis trophy with their greatest captain becoming their greatest manager. This was his first role, at any level, of coaching and sadly his naivety and lack of experience was found out at the World Cup. The perseverance in previous years with players who did not represents the best England had, Steve Borthwick being case in point, seemed to evolve into sensible selection policies. But at the World Cup this measured approach went out the window when things got tough, as demonstrated by England€™s final appearance against France when Flood and Wilkinson were selected alongside each other despite having not done so for over two years. Some may argue that sticking with Johnson could reap rewards, much in the way Clive Woodward was retained after the 1999 World Cup, and Graham Henry for New Zealand after the 2007 competition. But it seems it was not destined to happen again. The already internally troubled RFU has decided enough is enough and want a fresh start. As much as it pains me to say it, there has never been a sense of real progress under Johnson, just fits and starts. The defeat of Australia last year at Twickenham was a true highlight for the ages, but also represents a benchmark that has not been reached again. Similarly, the winning of the 2011 Six Nations was tainted by a merciless demolition by the Irish in the final game, with glimpses of true excellence all too infrequent throughout the competition. Within the world game Johnson is, and always will be, a legend. That night in Sydney backed up by a record of 84 caps, never mind captaining the winning Lions tour of South Africa in 1997 and countless domestic and European trophies with his club, Leicester Tigers. Having met the man I was terrified by his frame (6ft 6€) but in awe of his presence, respect and decency. Far from being just another rugby lump, he has a thorough mind and it is because of that he has made today€™s decision. Johnson commented: €œYou weigh up the factors and it is an all encompassing and all consuming job. Sitting here thinking, €˜Will you get through the next four years?€™ and taking everything into consideration I said, €˜No I€™m not.€™ His track record with England was mixed, with 21 wins and one draw from 38 games. Victories came in many cases as you would expect from opposition that should have been beaten. That Australia game last year being probably the biggest upset of his reign. The failure to beat a woeful French side (who admittedly improved) in the World Cup will live longest in the memory when it comes to the bad ones. But as the dust settles, Johnson shall ascend again in the minds of England rugby fans and be remembered as our winning captain, not our failing manager. All but the most enthusiastic England fans will have considered today€™s outcome was possible in their quieter moments ever since he was announced to take the role and much to everyone€™s disappointment, here we are. What next? Well the Six Nations is just around the corner and the RFU may be hard pressed to get a coaching set-up in place by then. The current backroom staff are likely to move on, with Graham Rowntree and Mike Ford the two most likely to get another bite at the cherry. What may be a wise move is to install a temporary coach for the Six Nations to allow time to select the best man for the job. My suggestion is Ian McGeechan. The next manager needs selected on what could be, not what was. Northampton Saint€™s Jim Mallinder has thrown his hat in the ring and is my choice, whilst Nick Mallet*, the ex-Italy coach, seems to be also in the €˜maybe€™ pile. Graham Henry is flavour of the month following his victory with his home nation in the World Cup and on the look out for something new, though I expect him to select something a bit less onerous than this. Other than that the list gets a bit thin, but what is for certain is the RFU need to get their house in order and create a solid peaceful platform for whoever is next in line. The planning for World Cup 2015 starts here and failure to get it right now could be just as disastrous in four years time. Here€™s hoping they have learned from the Johnson experiment and do this. But until then thank you Martin. We will always have Sydney. *UPDATE: Within hours of this article being published, Nick Mallet ruled himself out of the running to replace Martin Johnson. "I was interested to hear what the RFU had to say," said the South African after being approached by the RFU. "After mulling it over for a few days and discussing the opportunity with friends and family, I have decided that I will not be making myself available."

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Follow @BallInTouch on Twitter to keep up to date with all the latest rugby news and columns. Jeff Ball is a Geordie with a Newcastle Falcons season ticket, a rugby coaching badge, a bias for Newcastle United on Playstation games and was terrified by Jurassic Park as a child. For more of his personal musings following him on Twitter @JeffreyBall If you have any comments about this story please post a comment.