Exit door opens for Johnson and his Tigers clan
Ties to Welford Road and the green, white and red streak have been obvious
To misquote an old saying horribly, what does he know of rugby, who only Leicester knows? Wherever you looked at the final whistle in Auckland – whether it was left, right or inside centre – there was a Tigers influence and in none of the prominent cases did it appear to be a spectacularly beneficial one.
Martin Johnson came into the England manager's job in 2008 with a world of playing experience but a philosophy forged in the "fight first, train later" school of hard knocks propagated at his only senior club. His captain throughout this World Cup year has been Lewis Moody, of whom precisely the same description could be made, until Moody's late career move to Bath last season. England's No 1 fly-half for most of the last 12 months? Toby Flood of Leicester.
Add to them a quartet of coaches in John Wells, Graham Rowntree, Brian Smith and Mike Ford with various past ties to Welford Road and the green, white and red streak through Johnson's England has always been obvious. Smith had a reputation as an innovator when he coached London Irish but with England and even with Flood at fly-half, or yesterday at centre, he has kept the backline on a tight leash. A big pack wearing opponents down and letting the backs trade on mistakes has worked more often than not in the English Premiership.
But with England suffering too many players young, old or in between who have become first-choice starters without hitting the imperious heights of their predecessors – the Richard Hills, Lawrence Dallaglios, Jason Leonards and, yes, Martin Johnsons of this world – the style has only rarely convinced or delighted.
Johnson's team in the past year have been beaten by New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, Wales and France. It is not certain when or how the strife-torn RFU, whose acting chief executive Martyn Thomas arrived in Auckland on Friday, will discuss Johnson's future. The lure of managing England in a home World Cup in 2015 with Under-20 world finalists such as Joe Launchbury, Owen Farrell, George Ford and Christian Wade coming through will be tempting. The RFU must decide whether Johnson and his staff are the best to nurture that talent. Anyone from the homespun Jim Mallinder to overseas names such as Warren Gatland and Jake White could be candidates. Sir Clive Woodward, due here as an IRB guest this week for the semi-finals and final, may have a say if he finally lands the directorial job.
The earnest but misfiring Flood threw his boots into the crowd at the end of the quarter-final; as a gift, presumably, not a comment on the use he had made of them. As the former captains Raphaël Ibañez and Phil Vickery had predicted in these pages last week, France had more to them than they had shown in pool play. England were the opposite, living down to the underwhelming first impressions they made in edging out Argentina in Dunedin a month ago.
Poor Moody embodied broken England. Wearing surely his last piece of plaster in New Zealand slapped around a battered right knee – he was substituted after 62 minutes and went on his haunches to watch the match, elbows on an advertising hoarding, for a few seconds' contemplation before plonking his backside on the bench. "This will be my last World Cup for sure," an exhausted Moody said.
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