Speaking to the media, and notably not the written press this afternoon, Martin Johnson has spoken out on the leaked reports in The Times this week.
Johnson felt it was important that he came out and said something over the leaks, given the “detrimental” effect they were having on the game due to the way they had been reported. “They are opinions, they are certainly not truths, written in an emotive time after a disappointing tournament. You’re always going to have issues and gripes within the team, everything’s not done to everyone’s liking in terms of philosophy and how you train and match play, but that’s just the way it is.”
“The imbalance of the way it’s been reported is one of the worst things. One thing that group of players did do was stick together, even though some were frustrated by how the actions of certain players meant the whole team was portrayed as something that they weren’t. How much it affects on-field performance is hard to gauge. As a coaching group we didn’t feel it played a huge effect.”
“The way’s it’s been reported is so inaccurate that for the sake of the management, the players and the whole game, I felt I needed to come out and say something. The players are horrified at how it’s come out. To pick out the worst comments is damaging and doesn’t truly reflect the opinions of the group.”
“You don’t like to see criticism of yourself, or each other. When we’re in camp, that’s the level of honesty we have, so you have to understand the level of context that the comments have been written in. It’s one of the worst experiences I’ve had in the game.”
Regarding the chambermaid Annabel Newton, Johnson claimed that he had personally spoken to her and that the players had apologised, and that he thought the matter was settled. “A few weeks later there was contact from lawyers and demands for money. We told the players they needed to seek independent legal advice. At the time we did everything we could do, telling the players to apologise to her for upsetting her and misjudging the situation, which was what they did. She asked for compensation, and that was an option.”
On the apparent rift between senior players and the younger members of the squad, Johnson commented that the situation has again been mis-represented. “Things were magnified larger than they really were. Some individuals are too intense, others too relaxed, and you have to get that balance. Some players were clearly frustrated with the actions of others. A lot of the problems came early on and we felt that the players sorted them out and were united moving forward. It happens all the time in squads.”
Speaking about the effect of the scandal, Johnson said that whilst he had his own idea of how well he performed, the overwhelming feeling now was frustration at the lack of truth in the leaks. “That’s not the truth. That’s not what happened. The fact that it’s got to this stage is disappointing, and damaging. England should be at the top of the game for people to admire and respect, are those senior guys [who were binge drinking] Jonny Wilkinson? Mark Cueto? Of course not. If you take out the worst 10% then it wouldn’t look terrible.”
“It’s incredibly sad, and unnecessary, and wrong. We knew the problems, that’s what we try and manage. Friction can be a good thing to create feedback so you can assess where things are. It’s about responsibility for your actions, about looking at yourself, which is why I’m not in a job.” When asked whether he would agree that English rugby was in a shambles, Johnson nodded. “If you’re playing well, you can keep the stuff on the field and politics off the field with the RFU seperate. Because of the poor performances, the situation has been twisted.”
No issued damaged the England team more than the incident with Mike Tindall in the Altitude Bar. “Mike knew what he’d done. He was in a very bad place personally, and had put the team in a very bad situation. The important thing was to keep the team together. In hindsight, we’d have stayed in on that night, and made life a lot easier for ourselves.”
On the future, Johnson reflected that with the changing of the guard, a lot of the younger players who came through the experience would be better off for it in the long-run. Who will be there to manage them and pick them up following this tough week though, is another matter.
by Ben Coles