Martin Johnson has concluded that international rugby will be a sadder, sorrier place if players cannot knock back one too many at the bar on a rare free evening following the blaze of controversy that has engulfed his World Cup squad. "Rugby player drinks beer: shocker," he said with heavy irony as he was pressed on the now notorious events in Queenstown's premier dwarf-throwing bar last Sunday night.
Johnson also learnt that drinking in New Zealand with the Lions back in 1993 was a whole lot different to drinking with – and for – England in 2011, what with mobile phone cameras clicking a hundred times a minute and security videos finding their way on to the internet in no time. "It's the world we're in, unfortunately," rued Johnson, who added "I'd rather be at this kind of event and enjoy the atmosphere around it."
It was a difficult day for Johnson as he and his players returned to Dunedin ahead of tomorrow's game with Georgia at Otago Stadium. The furore surrounding the late-night antics of Mike Tindall, Chris Ashton and a handful of other players surreptitiously photographed in Queenstown's lowdown Altitude Bar had gone global – or at least, as near to global as rugby union is likely to get – and the fur was flying in all directions.
The manager had insisted before departure that he trusted his charges to make "sensible decisions" when unwinding in public and was therefore in serious danger of being compromised by his own words. How did he navigate these uncharted waters? Uncomfortably, but just about successfully.
"If you drink too much, you put yourself at risk: the players understand that," he said. "The great thing about this World Cup is that it's been very personal, with players mixing with the locals. Everyone wants a piece of you, to have their photo taken with you, and that's fine. We know there are times when you have to be extra cautious but if it gets to the point where we can't go out... I don't want to be involved in that."
Even so, Johnson, who enjoyed a beer or eight himself during his playing days, reiterated the World Cup experience should be enjoyed "at the right time, in the right place, in the right way", adding that reminders about correct behaviour were being issued on a regular basis.
"This isn't ideal," he admitted. "It's not good for us to be on the front pages of the newspapers, so of course we've had conversations.
"You need to let off steam but the games are coming thick and fast now, so there probably won't be another opportunity for people to get out as they did in Queenstown."Reuse content