Johnson's men on tour: shocking on the field, even worse off it

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The Independent Online

Early last evening New Zealand time, the England wing Delon Armitage was cited for a dangerous "shoulder-first" tackle on the Scotland full-back Chris Paterson during the ultra-tense World Cup pool game at Eden Park the previous night. The red-rose hierarchy could not have been surprised: for one thing, Armitage's challenge looked dodgy the moment it happened; for another, so much else had gone wrong during the day, there was every reason to suspect that another calamity might be lurking around the corner.

England are playing a blinder here, albeit off the field rather than on it. Manager Martin Johnson (right) awoke to news that one tabloid paper back home had identified the wing Chris Ashton, the hooker Dylan Hartley and the back-row forward James Haskell as the men involved in an alleged harassment incident with a hotel chambermaid during the stay in Dunedin at the start of the tournament.

"Believe me, they know my feelings on the matter," Johnson said. "All this stuff – it's exactly what we talked about before we came here. Because of the status England players have, because we're in this country, because it's a World Cup... everything is magnified and people have to understand that."

This tournament, however, has been of the "one thing after another" variety: Courtney Lawes' suspension after the opening match against Argentina; Mike Tindall having a drunken night out in Queenstown; the enforced internal suspension of two members of the back-room staff for "ball manipulation"; the incident in Dunedin; and now the citing of Armitage.

Asked whether he felt isolated – whether he might appreciate some visible support from the travelling Rugby Football Union contingent – Johnson took a fiercely independent line. "I'm the manager, this is my team and it's my responsibility," he said. "I'm from the RFU – I'm the official face. I've let the Union know about where we are." And he ended with an abrupt pay-off line: "It's the way I've decided to handle it. They don't tell me what to do."

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