RFU stick by Johnson

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2009 England-Argentina Martin Johnson

Image credit: Eurosport

22/11/2009 at 12:14

Six years ago England won the rugby World Cup to cement their position as the sport's dominant power but that success now seems to belong to a distant era after another hugely disappointing November series.

As the captain who lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, and the last man to skipper a side to victory over New Zealand earlier that year, Martin Johnson was a national hero. Now, as the manager of a team struggling on all fronts, he is fighting a desperate rearguard.

Saturday's 19-6 defeat by the All Blacks showed a big step up in attitude and intent from the previous week's poor show against Argentina but the result, following an earlier loss to Australia, left Johnson with a record of eight defeats from his 14 matches.


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In five November internationals against the Tri Nations teams under Johnson England have scored one try.

The high point of his spell in charge was an effervescent Six Nations victory over France and, even taking into account a welter of injuries in all departments this season, there seems to have been little progress since.

While media analysts, including some of his former team mates, have been cranking up the pressure on "Johnno", Martyn Thomas, head of the Rugby Football Union's management board, gave him his full backing on Sunday.

"I'm perfectly comfortable that Martin Johnson is the right man," Thomas told BBC Radio 5-Live.

"At the moment Martin has made it clear he is happy with his coaching team. We don't go around firing coaches. We tend to sit back and look at what's happening.

"At the moment he has my confidence to continue and carry on. Martin will lead us into the World Cup in 2011 for sure."

Johnson had earlier said his coaching team would remain in place.

"Considering what they've been through, they've done a brilliant job," he said after Saturday's loss, England's eighth in a row against the All Blacks. "Absolutely this is the (coaching) team I want for the Six Nations.

"As a group we've gone forward. We came into the series with a lot of disruption," he said. "If it's not visible on the field at times, then off the pitch this group is a lot further down the line than in the Six Nations.

"Although it's not particularly pretty there's a great deal of substance - this is a group of people who trust each other now and we go forward with a lot to build on."

Johnson and attack coach Brian Smith have been widely criticised for the team's lack of attacking flair or invention.

The unprecedented injury list has made smooth planning difficult and it must be tough to change the mindset of players who during their regular Premiership duties are bogged down in the game's ultra-conservative malaise.

However, Johnson's selections also have the look of safety first. Mathew Tait, probably England's brightest back, featured for only the last few minutes of Saturday's game having been left out of the previous two, Shane Geraghty was dropped to the bench for the All Blacks game and replaced by the sturdy but uninspired Ayoola Erinle while fly-half Danny Cipriani remains persona non grata.


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