Hero's try shows England just what they will be missing

Leicester 49 Ulster 7: World Cup-winning captain announces international retirement after helping Leicester to restore winning ways in Heineken Cup
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When the grim realisation dawned on him - yes, the line really was 20 metres away - the road must have seemed longer and more tortuous than the one he had just travelled with England. Martin Osborne Johnson was put on this earth to do many things: to lock scrummages and win line-outs, to ruck and maul with cold-eyed fury, to be kicked to kingdom come and exact retribution without fear or favour, to stare darkly at referees and stare down the bloody media, to stand tallest of the tall, to dominate, to lead. All of these, he accomplished. The rest, not least this try-scoring nonsense, was none of his business.

But he got there, bless him. Set free in an entire prairie of space by young Harry Ellis, a colleague who can legitimately look ahead to a red-rose future as Johnson looks back on a red-rose past, the old misery pinned back his cauliflower ears and headed for the distant corner with as much speed as he could muster. The sound barrier was not seriously threatened - he might, at a push, have broken the 40-minute mile - but as the Ulster defence had gone missing in action more than an hour previously, there was precious little chance of his being tackled. It was quite a moment, all things considered.

The remaining moments of Johnson's rugby life will also be spent at Leicester, if Leicester have anything to do with it. Peter Tom, the club chairman, said he found it "impossible to envisage Martin not playing a significant role at Welford Road, or not being here in 10 years' time". Those who know him best insist Johnson is not the sort to climb into a sacked man's shoes, so rumours of coaching roles and director of rugbyships are nothing more than talk on the wild side. But an executive position and a seat on the board will be his for the taking when he hangs up his jockstrap for good.

None of this will stop rival clubs launching their charm offensives and flashing their wallets. Worcester, pretty much guaranteed a place in next season's Premiership following their victory at Orrell on Saturday, are said to be particularly interested in his services - and they have money to burn. But the engaging and enthusiastic Tom, a successful businessman for whom wealth and position is no barrier to approachability, sees Johnson staying at home.

"This club has an amazing emotional hold on the people who become involved with it," he said over a beer in the ABC bar, an unpretentious little hostelry dedicated to the celebrated front-row union of Graham Rowntree, Richard Cockerill and Darren Garforth. "Twenty-eight years ago, I stormed out of this place saying 'bugger the lot of you' - something to do with not being picked for some game or other. I don't suppose I thought then that I'd be back here as chairman, but there is nowhere I'd rather be. It's a demanding club, a club based on brutal honesty, and there is no more honest a rugby man than Martin. On the board, we have a unique mix of business and rugby experience; the directors have more than 2,000 games behind them. Can I see Martin as a part of things? Of course I can."

Had Leicester lost on Saturday, six days after their embarrassing capitulation against the same opponents in Belfast, Tom might have been less talkative. "It has been a tough week, probably the toughest of my chairmanship," he admitted after Johnson had sounded the last knockings with his long yomp to glory in the 78th minute. Dean Richards, the director of rugby and Johnson's predecessor as folk hero-in-excelsis to the Welford Road multitude, was equally grateful for this agreeable turn of events. "We know we are always capable of this kind of performance, which makes the bad days all the more frustrating," he said.

That this would be one of the good days was obvious from the 15th minute, when a supposedly granite-hard Ulster pack engaged in a prolonged bout of fistic mayhem with their opposite numbers and finished a very poor second. As ever, Johnson was a willing and unapologetic contributor - there is no point being the conscience of your team if you get a bad conscience about it - and as the white-shirted visitors disappeared en masse into the advertising hoardings, the die was cast. With the honourable exception of Roger Wilson at No 8, their forwards were eaten alive.

With nothing positive happening in front of them, the Ulster backs decided to take an afternoon off. Quite why Alan Solomons, their cerebral coach, took a full hour to substitute the increasingly bamboozled and forlorn Paddy Wallace will remain one of the mysteries of the age. (The Wisdom of Solomons? Not quite). The defensive work of James Topping and Tyrone Howe was none too spectacular, either. It took the Ulster back three virtually all day to catch one of Jaco van der Westhuyzen's speculative high kicks, and when one of them finally managed it - Bryn Cunningham, the substitute full-back, was the man responsible for this dramatic development - Leicester immediately won the ruck and sent Johnson away for his try.

Ellis, a very decent scrum-half operating in one of England's few problem positions, was suitably busy on his return from a lengthy suspension; his passes to Van der Westhuyzen, an occasional stand-off at best, were every bit as sympathetic as they had to be, and in his sniping around the fringes, he was not noticeably less effective than Matt Dawson in his pomp. Ulster may have been a whole lot less than forbidding - quite how Solomons is able to ignore an international lock of Gary Longwell's powers is far from clear - but more cohesive units than this would have struggled to cramp the half-back's style.

Clive Woodward, the England coach, is currently in New Zealand for a post-World Cup summit on the state of the game, but news of Ellis will already have reached him. So will news of Johnson's try, and he will be flabbergasted by it. If the former captain is going to start scoring 20-metre beauties at this stage of his career, maybe he should consider another season or two at international level. With Mike Tindall on the long-term injury list, the Test team could use an outside centre.

Leicester: Tries Lloyd 2, Back, Van der Westhuyzen, M Johnson. Cons Vesty 3. Pens Vesty 6. Ulster: Try Topping. Con Humphreys.

Leicester: S Vesty; A Healey (S Booth, 57), G Gelderbloom, L Lloyd (L Myring, 79), N Baxter; J Van der Westhuyzen, H Ellis; G Rowntree (R Nebbett, 44-53), D West (J Richards, 66), D Morris (R Nebbett 66), M Johnson, B Kay, W Johnson, N Back (capt), H Tuilagi (W Skinner, 61).

Ulster: P Wallace (B Cunningham, 60); J Topping, S Stewart (A Larkin, 18), P Steinmetz, T Howe; D Humphreys, N Doak (K Campbell, 76); R Kempson, M Sexton (P Shields, 66), S Best (R Moore, 50), M Mustchin (M McCullough, 54), R Frost, A Ward (capt), N Best (W Brosnihan, 54), R Wilson.

Referee: N Williams (Wales).

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