With the World Cup upon us, how does the current England management stack up against that of Martin Johnson’s tenure at the 2011 tournament?
Martin Johnson was known on the field to be a leader of action and few words. He came into the coaching role having not long hung up his own boots but seen as a steady set of hands to steady the swaying ship of English rugby after some stop-start years.
His conservative selection policy of players he knew as loyal and hard-working was deemed to be occasionally at the expense of out and out talent.
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Johnson offered an intimidating presence to outsiders but there were hints that he perhaps gave his players too much leeway in their extra-curricular activities.
We can all recall the players in some cases literally leaping from back to front pages with a number of drunken episodes and Tuilagi’s infamous harbour-diving exploits. How much this affected their on-field performances is impossible to say (albeit the latter was after their tournament was over), but either way, this cannot have been anything other than a distraction.
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The ultimate ‘failure’ of that team at the tournament, accompanied with the negative PR, meant that heads were bound to roll. Johnson, loyal to his players, fell on his own sword by taking full responsibility.
Stuart Lancaster, having never played to an international level but developed as a very successful coach of the England Saxons side, has known many of the current group of players as they’ve grown up through the age-group levels of the England set up.
He’s therefore taken a no-nonsense, schoolmaster style approach to his task.
Picking up what was rapidly becoming a poisoned chalice; Lancaster, even in his ‘interim’ status, was keen to banish to the memory banks the behaviours of the old regime.
Gone was the soft luxuries of the elite players. It was as if he was saying, 'you guys are rugby players, that’s all. Let’s bring you back down to earth!'
And it was from his grass-roots stance that he proceeded to rebuild the culture within the England set-up to where it is today.
Early in Lancaster’s tenure, Danny Care seemed to be testing the boundaries with a handful of drunken episodes and was duly exiled for not adhering to the high standards set by the management.
But has been welcomed back into the fold since cleaning up his act. It is perhaps here that Lancaster has had his greatest effect – being clear in defining the boundaries and the levels to which he expects his players to perform. Lancaster does not want for consistency.
In certain aspects, Johnson’s tenure may be valuable to Lancaster’s charges in terms of what to avoid off the field – in terms of on-field performance, see Johnno in 2003.
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