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Martin Johnson explains his lack of desire to ever return to rugby

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson has revealed that he has no interest in returning to rugby. The 53-year-old, who skippered his country to glory in 2003, spent three years as head coach but resigned in 2011 after his team were beaten in the World Cup quarter-finals by France in New Zealand.

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That campaign generated a string of negative headlines. They included an infamous night out by some England players in Queenstown and centre Manu Tuilagi receiving a police warning and fine for jumping off a ferry into Auckland Harbour.

Johnson, the former multi-title Leicester second row, has only fleetingly been involved in the game as a pundit since leaving his post with England.

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Many feel that he still has much to offer but he insisted on the week of the 20th anniversary of England’s 2003 World Cup victory that he won’t ever be coming back in any capacity.

Appearing on the Evening Standard rugby podcast with Lawrence Dallaglio, Johnson explained: “Well, I was watching the (recent) World Cup final. It was down to a point. Yeah, I was thinking, even if I was supporting New Zealand or South Africa, I’d probably be feeling sick right now, you know?

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“I’m fine. I’m lucky we have done what we did [win a World Cup]. I watch my boy (Henry) play rugby, do a little bit of coaching with him and I’m happy with that. I’ve not got a huge desire to put myself through that every Saturday.”

Reflecting on England’s World Cup triumph 20 years ago, Johnson reckoned that the key attribute that set Clive Woodward’s team apart in 2003 was their hunger for success. “When you look at, you know, performing teams, they have probably all got similar values, maybe sort of expressed in slightly different ways.

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“But fundamentally, you need that huge hunger to be successful. If you’re comfortable, and I’m not saying this about any team anywhere, but if you’re just happy where you are, then you’ll stay where you are or go lower.

“You have to be hugely hungry to be successful and, you know, Clive had that. We had that. We were never happy and in a good way. We probably didn’t win as much as we could have won in those preceding years. We blew some Grand Slams, so it always kept us grounded. It’s never comfortable.”

Johnson added that the 2024 Guinness Six Nations will be a good time for current England coach Steve Borthwick to give the next generation the international experience they desperately need. “There is an opportunity for some young guys to come in and play in the team because we are going to lose.

“Sometimes the World Cup is the end of an era for quite a lot of guys, and this one is definitely one of those. There will be quite a lot of England players sort of ending their careers now and not playing next year, so there is an opportunity there and it will be a bit transitional.

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“We need our young players to come in and very quickly understand what Test rugby is. You know, it’s not Premiership rugby, it’s Test match rugby. It’s physical, it’s quick. People say to me, “Oh, I saw so and so play. I saw X, Y and Z play for his club team’. I’ll just say, “Could he play in that All Blacks vs Ireland game? Could he play in that South Africa vs France game? Could he play in that World Cup final?’

“Because that is what Test match rugby is about; you have to be able to operate in those situations. It’s not playing in the Premiership where you can flick a ball out the back of your hand and make someone look fantastic.

“Everything you do is important. Every error is amplified. Every action you take is amplified at Test level because you get to do less, but you have to do them absolutely solidly well all the time otherwise you will get your team exposed. There isn’t the opportunity to make up for a couple of mistakes. It just won’t happen. You’ll be behind and beaten.”

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Red and White Dynamight 4 hours ago
Duhan van der Merwe hat-trick sinks sloppy England to win Calcutta Cup

Up the Jocks ! a great team effort and 4 victories v on the bounce v their greatest rivals for those north of Hadrians. But, of course, before the celebrations survive the first pint of McEwans, it seems for some this Calcutta Cup match was merely 1 man v 15. What exactly is it about Sth Africans that make them such insufferable bores ? you rarely see Kiwis claiming Ireland victories (incl 3 x NZers) or Aussies for that matter (X1). You never see Samoans claiming France/England victories (Tuilagis). Or Fijians claim All Black victories. Scotland have had some great Kiwi-born players (S.Lineen/B.Laney/J.Leslie) - no surprise given their heritage - but they supported them as their ‘2nd team’. If anything they applaud their countrymen for taking opportunities and bettering themselves as professionals and, hopefully, competing on the World stage too. It takes some stratospheric level of stupid to ignore the opaque boundaries and qualifications that now allow Japan to be competitive, Portugal to win a RWC game, Argentinians to play for Italy, New Zealanders to dominate Tongan and Samoan teams - and not celebrate that World Rugby is more competitive and better for it. Everywhere on social media, even when the post has zero to do with Sth Africans (schoolboy rugby being the most obvious barrel-scraping eg - these are KIDS), they pile in and try to claim the “we are better/stronger/faster” with such voluminous levels of obnoxious bile, that it poisons the mere celebration of the sport itself. These are not ‘rugby fans’ that can marvel at the Game they Play in Heaven, but rather some misplaced insecure-fuelled poison that they need to extract from deep inside their psyche. Its hard to understand the exact reason for the massive chip on their shoulders and their desperation for the victimhood/noone-loves-us-we-dont-care, but it seems accelerated with their LOTTO Cup 1-pt wins, like gasoline on the fire. Obsessed with ‘cheating’ refs and ‘cheating’ opposition (Rassies video bloopers during Lions tour; McCaw’s whole career) and celebrating their own thuggery (#JUSTICE4 the dirtiest player in pro-rugby history), when luck suddenly goes their way (1995 Final vs an acutely comprimised ABs; Kilosi<->Cane cards in 2023 Final) or their players escape adequate penalty (Etzebeth 1-handed non-intercepts; Kolbe illegal chargedown; Etzebeth cynically retreating in the AB backline) so obviously that its clearly been coached, then suddenly its AOK as long its SA that benefit directly from it. The schizophrenic nature of Sth Africans presents them as good company in person - and lets face it, theyre EVERYWHERE now and cant get out of their own country fast enough - but as anonymous keyboard ninjas their true nature shines out as one beset with a dark undercurrent of toxic self-absorption. It appears that the bravado appears only under the protection of anonymity, a cowardice of insufferable reverse-flagellation to make themselves feel proud when the mirror stares back at them. Give yourselves a long slow clap. Well done to the entire Scotland team including all those born south of Hadrians Wall. Playing a fantastic fast pace of fluid ball-in-hands rugby that seems almost foreign to other teams. Och aye the noo.

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