Martin Johnson explains his lack of desire to ever return to rugby
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.
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.
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?
“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.
“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.
“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.”