Rugby Union: Video points finger at Johnson

David Llewellyn hears the All Black coach cry foul over 'an act of thuggery'
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The Independent Online
They shook them. They rattled them. But England just could not roll over New Zealand at an impassioned Old Trafford yesterday. Unfortunately, a couple of incidents cast a darker shadow than the All Blacks.

The New Zealand coach, John Hart, announced that he was considering citing an England player for a punch on the All Blacks captain, Justin Marshall, in the sixth minute. "I'm incensed," said Hart. "It was an act of thuggery and the person who did it should have known better. At first we thought Marshall had a broken jaw. It affected his hearing. There is no place in the professional game for this. I'll be watching the video and taking the 24 hours to review the episode before taking the step of citing." It must have been bad - Hart has never cited a player before.

Later the video in question appeared to show Martin Johnson, the England lock and Lions captain of the summer, striking Marshall when the New Zealander was passing the ball in the early stages of the game. If Johnson is cited and found guilty he will face a minimum suspension of 30 days. It was Johnson's two acts of foul play that cost England two tries last season, against Argentina and Wales.

This misdemeanour was a sad blight on a stirring performance by England. Their hooker Richard Cockerill made his intentions clear even before the start when he stood up to his opposite number Norm Hewitt during the haka, and there was some jostling between the two. Later the England hooker said: "It was not pre-meditated, it just happened. I singled out my opposite number." But at the end of the haka, the All Black prop Craig Dowd appeared to bang the England scrum-half, Kyran Bracken, out of the way with his chest.

The incidents riled Hart who said: "It was totally disrespectful. All we ask for is a bit of respect for our culture. That sort of behaviour has no place on a football field."

Marshall added: "We've never had to deal with that before. I was quite surprised with the way England reacted. The haka is not meant to upset the opposition, it's a cultural thing."

It was difficult amid all the back-slapping and after the lap of honour by the players who wanted to show their appreciation of the amazing Old Trafford support, to remember that Lawrence Dallaglio's men had lost to New Zealand.

"Everyone in the dressing-room is disappointed," admitted coach Clive Woodward. "They really felt they could have won. But the most amazing thing about the whole game was the crowd. The decision to stage the match at Old Trafford was a touch of genius."

The 55,000-plus who had gathered in Manchester cheered England to the echo. Even the warm-up found them working themselves into a vocal frenzy of support. "The atmosphere was brilliant," added Woodward. "And I think the noise caught out the All Blacks. And the reason England ran around the pitch afterwards was merely to show their appreciation for the wonderful support they had received."

At least it was not the rout which the gloomier England fans had feared. But as much as England covered themselves with glory, so too the All Blacks let themselves down. They have always prided themselves in getting the basics right. Yesterday that was not the case. There were turnovers, knock- ons, dropped passes and panicky indecision on the frequent occasions England applied the screw. Unfortunately the home side lacked a screwdriver. Too often the world's best were let off.

But after the fans had filed out, the England manager, Roger Uttley, reflected: "We thought we were in with a chance and by the time the boys came out for the second half they had discovered that these guys in black were not supermen."

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