Monday’s press conference brought out a side of Martin Johnson that we rarely see. Renowned for his aggression and passion, the overwhelming vibe from Johnson yesterday evening was one of defeat, and remorse. The moments where the emotion closed on his throat may have not been visible to the naked eye, but were audible for everyone to hear. Moments earlier, he had leapt in front of questions towards Rob Andrew, deflecting away any wrongdoing on the part of the Director of Operations by bringing the blame back onto himself. It was painful to watch.
Yet in a sense the occasion felt less about the departure of Johnson, and more on why Andrew was to be retained. The discussion drifted from why Johnson had called it a day, to what exactly it was that Andrew did in his position. What followed was a patronising response from Andrew of how little the audience truly understood his impact on how England performed at the Rugby World Cup. Effectively, and excruciatingly, he declared that inside the “multi-million pound industry” that is the RFU, Johnson was left alone to run the team, and that Andrew’s role was away from the team and on the whole department, of which the team represented “a fifth of his responsibilities”. As a result, he affirmed that he would “absolutely not consider resigning”.
Herein lies the problem. Johnson confessed that perhaps if he hadn’t resigned, that someone might have turned around to him and suggested moving on was for this best. From the cutting way that he responded when questioned about his own future, Andrew suggested that kind of humility was beyond him. If he is truly as detached from the running of the England team as he proclaims, then why do so many potential coaching candidates turn up their noses at the prospect of working beneath him?
Clearly threatened, when prompted as to how England would be planning for the upcoming Six Nations tournament, at the time of writing 11 weeks away, in terms of squad selection and the appointment of a new head coach, Andrew’s snarky comment that he would be getting onto it “the second he left the press conference” was unnecessary. What was required was a clear, concise response about how planning was underway to appoint a successor, with a list of candidates drawn up and set to be interviewed over the coming weeks. In other words, to provide reassurance. What Andrew actually said soured an already grim atmosphere.
Back to Johnson, his future in the game is in doubt, as he responded when asked about whether he would coach again with a negative “who knows”. By self-assessing that he didn’t have the heart to put his mind into the next four years, he stated that as opposed to focusing on personal disappointments, he wanted to do what was best for England. Pragmatic and impersonal, his final comments mean that Johnson leaves with his integrity intact as a man, regardless of whether he has a future in coaching. Whilst Johnno left Twickenham portrayed in as positive a manner as possible, Andrew sat next to him as the villain. He has work to do to convince everyone who doesn’t understand apparently just how much of an important role he fills, as to why he should stay on.
by Ben Coles
Video footage below courtesy of RugbyMedia: