England players offer only limited support to Johnson

Manager's future under a cloud after France outclass his lacklustre team 19-12

Auckland

England will trail home from New Zealand on a night flight to Heathrow tomorrow as beaten World Cup quarter-finalists and with only qualified support for the three-year managerial stint of Martin Johnson to continue.

The Six Nations champions were dumped out 19-12 by France here in Auckland, and have been outlasted by Wales, the home unions' only representatives now. Warren Gatland's team won their quarter-final against Ireland 22-10 in Wellington yesterday and will face the resurgent French in the first semi-final next Saturday.

Johnson's contract with the Rugby Football Union is up in December and he said after the defeat at Eden Park that it was neither the time nor the place to talk about his future, adding that he would "give it a couple of days and look at it".

The next World Cup, to be hosted by England, might be tempting to stay on for, but a series of disciplinary lapses on the field and poor behaviour by some players off it dogged Johnson's efforts here and England's campaign never rose above the narrow and mundane pool wins over Argentina and Scotland.

"For me it's frustrating because we're a talented team capable of great performances," said Ben Foden, who scored one of two second-half tries as England battled to come back from a devastating 16-0 half-time deficit.

"It just seems like there was a spark missing, a lack of confidence. Maybe we got tactics wrong sometimes in the way we wanted to play. Players can blame management, management can blame players. At the end of the day we're one unit and we all need to buy into the same ideas.

"You can't really fault Johnno's enthusiasm and what he's trying to achieve there. Johnno's been one of the inspirational guys on the tour."

The other try-scorer, Mark Cueto, said: "We've been knocked out in the quarter-finals so that's going to go massively against Johnno but he's done a fantastic job."

If he does stay it seems likely there will be a shake-up among his support staff, with the attack coach Brian Smith a probable casualty.

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