Martin Johnson's first tour as England manager was a good tour to miss, and miss it he did. Safe at home with his pregnant wife while the national side were losing heavily to the All Blacks in the early summer of 2008, he also spared himself the torment of dealing with a botched investigation by the Auckland police into a rape allegation and the uncomfortable sight of four touring players refusing to speak with detectives on the advice of their travelling barrister. It was, to say the least, a sorry mess.
Yesterday, after running the rule over the lion's share of a 44-man party selected to tour Australia – and, briefly, New Zealand – next month, Johnson left his audience in little doubt that the scars of '08 remained livid. "I don't know whether I'll ask some of those on the trip who are still with us to address the group and talk about their experience, but we'll certainly put the right measures in place and make sure the players are aware of the possible pitfalls," said the man who led England to the world title seven long years ago.
"We'll be together for three and a half weeks in hostile territory, staying in different hotels and city centre locations. There will be distractions, so we'll need to be smart and look after each other. It's the world we live in. There will be pitfalls, and some of them could be put there deliberately. Day in and day out, guys will face these pitfalls. I don't think they will be targets, but people have cameras on their phones these days."
While the embarrassments and humiliations were unfolding two years ago, Johnson's mood darkened to pitch black as each new bulletin reached him at his home near Leicester. Seething at the way the tour had descended into scandal – no formal charges were ever laid, but England left New Zealand with their reputation badly tarnished – the manager made it clear at the first opportunity that he would not tolerate poor behaviour. His view has not softened, hence his decision to raise the subject with this latest band of tourists.
"I want them to enjoy being rugby players, and part of that enjoyment is going out with your team-mates at the right time, in the right place and in the right way," he said. "But people can find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and because of who they are, it grabs the headlines. While this week's discussions have been mainly on rugby matters, we have touched on this issue. I want people to know what's expected of them."
There will be no summer visit to the southern hemisphere next year: instead, England will play warm-up matches in the British Isles and continental Europe ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand, which has a September start. However, the 2012 trip of South Africa will be a lengthy affair, featuring a three-Test series against the Springboks as part of the International Rugby Board's plan to restore "traditional" touring.Reuse content