Saturday, 6 February 2010

Do or Die for Johnson?

The Six Nations is set to kick off in an hour’s time with Ireland taking on Italy. It is of course the five o’clock match that is of most interest to the nation as England start their campaign with a tough test against Wales at Twickenham. All eyes will be on Martin Johnson as the game approaches and if rumours are to be believed then the large browed coach must win three out of five matches in this year’s tournament to keep his position as England’s head coach.

This target places even greater importance on this opening game. With two harder games to follow against the bookies two favourites, last year’s Grand Slam winners Ireland and a difficult trip to across the channel to play the French. England will enter these matches as underdogs which means a loss to Wales this evening would leave England and Johnson with an uphill battle to reach his supposed target.

The bottom line is that Martin Johnson has given the nation no reason to believe that he is capable of leading our country’s rugby team to success in this year’s Six Nations or in the looming World Cup next year in New Zealand. He may well have been one of the greatest captains to wear the Red Rose but unfortunately this does not guarantee his ability to make the transition into being a great coach.

How much responsibility lies with the coach is hard to say. The truth is England’s current crop of elite players is not in the same league as years gone by. You look through the team expected to start today and how many world class players are there? Johnny is the stand out performer but beyond him the team lacks the star quality and so the expectations placed on Johnson must be more realistic. To constantly use the team of the 2003 World Cup winners as a comparison or a bench mark would be to set the bar too high.

Nevertheless, having won only 6 of his 14 test, Martin Johnson’s position must be under review. How long do you let him ‘build’ a squad or develop a team ethos? The problem is that he has made no real progress since his appointment in 2008 and offered few signs of promise for the future. His refusal to make wholesale changes may ensure continuity but has ultimately resulted in players keeping their places in the side even despite poor series of performances – the likes of Ugo Monye and captain Borthwick spring to mind.

Johnson took the role of head coach with no previous coaching experience and it appears that now England are paying the price of their romantic decision to give him the position. Johnson was a great player, and will probably go on to make a great coach, but at the moment he just isn’t. His tactics don’t seem to be understood by the players, his squad selections are overly conservative and he is unwilling to introduce some more radical changes to try and lift England from their steady demise.

I hope that the rumours of an ultimatum being placed on Johnson for this year’s Six Nations are true. Do we allow him until after next year’s world cup? Surely two years with a losing record and no change is enough to condemn Johnson to the fate of going to New Zealand only as a spectator. If he is unable to win three of England’s five games then I believe that top down changes must be implemented. With an easy victory surely coming against the Italians and a game against Scotland, they really ought to win. If he cannot muster a victory against the French, Irish or injury plagued Welsh then that must be all the evidence that we need that Johnson is not the man for the job?!

Thoughts, comments or predictions please... except on grammar, I was far too hung-over to care!


  1. The question remains though, was the RFU's decision to appoint a rookie as coach a wise one, based purely on his track record as captain?! I don't think so at all. Take Ian McGeechan as a comparison; the polar opposite of Martin Johnson. Tactical and strategic excellence alongside a wealth of experience, he was the kind of coach England needed. Instead they went for passion, heart and inspiration - if this was Hollywood, Johnson would win the 6 nations or at least fall at the last hurdle, something along the lines of Pacino in Any Given Sunday. But this is real and in real life, you need to play with your head. This is something Johnson has lacked in his managerial career so far.

    That starts with the captain and Borthwick is perhaps one of the most useless I have ever witnessed.

    Johnson's squad selection for this tournament is mixed. He must use the likes of Foden, Lawes and Ashton. These younger players need experience now, NOT later. That is one thing Ireland and France do so well.

    Johnson will survive this tournament and he will win his 3 games but he must rethink he strategy and playing mentality ASAP.

    It is safe to say I await this afternoons game with curiosity rather then a sense of excitement.

  2. truth bombs,I would question why johnson was allowd to jump straight from england captain to coach? he has no experience, if anyone else with that CV had applied for the job they would have been laughed out. He needs to coach at club level at least before being allowed a position where he can damage english morale quite so much. I love the man, and he's a hero but he really needs show us something special. otherwise i'm fully in support of Lawrence Dallaglio's application for the job!

  3. Well they beat a Wales side that I think it would be fair to say was misfiring. However you can only beat what is in front of you.

    On the other hand I did not see the commitment to running rugby that was talked about prior to the tournament, I know we were missing Flutey but is he that big a loss? Ireland looked a lot better playing against Italy or that was my impression anyway.

    Incidentally the Bill Mclaren tribute program prior to the 6 Nations was an interesting watch.

  4. Were you watching the same Ireland game I was Dennis?! Ireland lack dynamism and dynamism against what was one of the worst Italian sides in years!! Did you have your tv on mute, or were you not listening to Justin Marshall absolutely tearing the Irish performance to pieces.

    When England got it right today, they looked good, certainly better than Ireland. The difference between the two sides is that Ireland have all the pieces in place. England took a big step today, even Borthwick had a decent game. Danny Care and Nick Easter were quality too. Flutey is a vital piece of the puzzle, as he provides that bit of flair that Flood lacks. Next week England will do a job on Italy, something that Ireland failed to do today.

  5. Ireland were less impressive in their victory than England. The difference is that they have the set-up that will enable them to play much much better.

    England were decent today and a win is a win. Flutey absence was notable as the backs did not look threatening all game. The scoreline flattered England, they scored 14 points againsts a 14-man Wales side and a further 7 through a breakaway try. The performance was far from convincing and was typical of performances under Johnson. Not enough quick ball, too much mindless kicking and no stand-out performers in the backs.

    The dominance at the line-out and the performances of Care, Borthwick and Haskell were possitives to be taken from the game. It was afterall only the first game of the tournament so it is fair to expect more from England, as it is with Ireland. The win is what counts and they got that, but in doing so they did little to ease the worries and problems that I stated in the orginal post.

  6. Might not have been better from a rugby point of view Dan, but from my perspective as a member of the audience I was more entertained watching Ireland. Yes my tv was on mute, the laptop had the football on the radio.

    The points Dom raises in the above comment are the parts I found frustrating, the kicking and slow ball. I know a win is a win but it just doesn't fill me with anticipation for the next game. Other than that which precedes watching England play any sport.

  7. I can't wait to see Dan Cole have a go at the I-ties front row. Could be an absolute disaster though. At least MJ didn't have to cope with his only real tighthead option not playing because it's a Sunday (it's OK Euan, God's scottish - he'll understand).


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