It was a long, hard three-and-a-half years, and Martin Johnson thought just as hard before walking away from his job as England manager – a job that ended in abject World Cup failure in the rugby badlands of New Zealand. But in the end, the untenable became the inevitable. "There's a part of me that regrets leaving because there's a degree of unfinished business," he said yesterday, "but I came into this with my eyes open and I leave with my eyes open. It's an all-encompassing, all-consuming role and when I ask myself if I'm ready to commit myself to another four years, the answer is: 'No, I'm not'."
Johnson made it clear in his valedictory address at Twickenham that he had run the operation his way, with the people he wanted alongside him. "I had all the help I needed," he insisted, "and I was allowed to do the job on my own terms. I was insulated from whatever was going on with the Rugby Football Union and what happened at the World Cup had nothing to do with issues over governance or structure. I'm looking you in the eye when I say this, and I'm not saying it to defend anyone. I'm saying it because it is true."
Sitting alongside him, in need of some defending, was Rob Andrew, the man who runs the professional rugby wing of the RFU's sprawling operation. While much of the questioning of Johnson was sympathetic in the extreme, the questioning of the former England outside-half was quite otherwise. Would he too be pondering his position? Andrew fought fire with fire. "There is a widespread misunderstanding of my role: my job is to run a huge department; Martin was appointed to run the England team," he responded. "No, I'm absolutely not considering resignation."
Former Italy coach Nick Mallett was immediately installed as many people's favourite to take over at Twickenham – but he has decided against moving from South Africa back to his native England.
"I would like to lay to rest the speculation linking me to the now-vacant England rugby coaching position," Mallett said in a statement issued by his management company last night.
"After mulling it over for a few days and discussing the opportunity with close friends and family, I have decided that I will not be making myself available for the position.
"My primary concern is my family – we are settled in Cape Town."