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24th November 2011

Johnson quits as RFU crumbles

The former captain walks away with his head held high as Rugby’s governing body implodes.

Martin Johnson’s resignation from his post as England manager came in a typically dignified fashion. A man clearly weighed down by the burden of his position – coupled with a disappointing World Cup campaign – he took the decision to resign with immediate effect.
Johnson’s departure was inevitable after the World Cup; with lacklustre on-field performances and immature off-field antics, his England team did him no favours. This came despite – to the dismay of England fans – Johnson standing by his players’ throughout.
The failures of the World Cup seemed to have been the catalyst for Johnson’s decision.
The events leading up to the ill-fated tournament had been tumultuous – one minute England were trouncing Australia in their own back yard and winning the 2011 Six Nations; the next they were labouring against Georgia. The road to New Zealand was rocky, something hardly aided by selection decisions throughout his tenure which could only be described as bewildering. The overall impression given off by the establishment was of complete disjointedness. Toby Flood’s gradual rise to an accomplished fly-half and then being dropped to the bench for the entire World Cup epitomised Johnson and England’s four-year journey: one step forward, two steps back.
Johnson had no coaching experience before taking the job in 2008 and many question whether he really made the transition from player to manager. Angry outbursts seen in the coaches’ area during matches showed a man frustrated that he couldn’t go out and do the job himself. It has become clear that perhaps he should have been given more coaching support to compensate for his lack of experience. He was weakened before he got the chance to stamp his mark on the team.
Lurking in the background of much of Johnson’s reign was the mess that is the Rugby Football Union, the sport’s governing body, that made the debatable decision to appoint Johnson in the first place. Its reputation has been in tatters since July, when it surfaced there were squabbles between board members about the release of important documents, and an apparent witch hunt of former chairman Martyn Thomas.
Previous England team manager Brian Ashton believes the trouble with the RFU tipped Johnson over the edge. “I watched Martin Johnson’s press conference and maybe he thought to himself: ’What the hell is going on in the RFU and do I want to carry on working for an organisation like that?’”.
Rob Andrew, the RFU Director of Operations, has a large part to play in the appointment of team managers and failed to take accountability for Johnson’s appointment during the press conference. Andrew is a survivor of the collapsing RFU regime but failed to provide Johnson with the support he needed in 2008, and dealt embarrassingly with the removal of Johnson’s predecessor Brian Ashton.
It seems now that much of the decision to appoint Johnson was political; a gamble that in the eyes of the fans could seem worth it. However it is difficult to put any blame on Johnson himself because he was not given the structure to perform his role. Whilst he cut a forlorn figure after his resignation, his reputation amongst fans will always be healthy.

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