Johnson insists sacking England coaches not the answer

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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson insisted that sacking his under-fire coaches to appease "hysterical" critics would have been the cowardly way out of a disappointing autumn campaign and bad for England's future.

England lost to Australia and New Zealand either side of a laboured victory over Argentina, which prompted former internationals Josh Lewsey and Will Greenwood to call vehemently for changes at the top.

Forwards coach John Wells and defence coach Mike Ford, who have both been part of the England set-up since 2006, came under the most intense scrutiny.

Johnson stressed he would have made changes had he felt they were in the best interests of England's progression to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

But he blasted the criticism as "ridiculous" and said: "The easy thing for me to do would be to go, 'Yes, you are right', sack x, y and z and buy yourself some time and blame someone else.

"That would be easy to do but it wouldn't be right.

"It is not nice to sack people but if I thought the decision was in the best interests of the team, I would make it.

"We are not satisifed with the way we have played. We know when we have not been good enough. We know we can do better.

"If we have not been playing well, which we haven't, we will stand there and take criticism. But some of the criticism has been so wide of the mark and almost hysterical.

"It becomes ridiculous at times and it goes too far. Frankly, a lot of people don't actually know what goes on and what happens."

Johnson was particularly angered by the criticism of Wells, with some critics suggesting he had gone "stale" while Lewsey described his achievements as "terrible".

"John has come in for a lot of criticism but what is it based on? If you look at the stats, the set-piece has been more effective this autumn than it was last autumn with all the (injury) disruption he has had to deal with," said Johnson.

"But ultimately we haven't won games so no-one is patting themselves on the back thinking they have done a great job. We want to win matches and we would sacrifice production of stats to do so."

England's elite rugby director Rob Andrew reinforced that Johnson is contracted to the 2011 World Cup and backed his decision to stick by the coaching staff.

Andrew had described this autumn campaign as the "acid test" for England and he conceded some supporters would be "disenchanted" with the current position.

But Andrew also stressed how badly Johnson's best-laid plans were hit by an increasing injury toll.

England lined up against Australia in the opening game without 10 of the starting XV that finished the Six Nations. In total, Johnson was without around 40% of his 64-man elite squad.

Andrew said: "We appointed Martin 18 months ago to take the team to the World Cup in 2011. There will be some bumps in the road and we will learn from those and move forward into the Six Nations and beyond.

"We are confident around the ability of that coaching team to take this team forward. The transformation from the autumn last year to the end of the Six Nations was there for everybody to see.

"We didn't win the Six Nations but we came second, we scored the most tries and conceded the least points and had a team that was beginning to develop.

"Martin has never used injuries as an excuse but he has had to build a new team. The list of players missing clearly made life difficult for the coaching team."

Andrew described the debilitating injury list as "unsustainable" to the long-term future of the game and he has called on the International Rugby Board to take action.

The number of players injured at any one time has increased on last year from 25% to 30% and Andrew suggested the new interpetation of the breakdown laws could be responsible.

Andrew also has concerns that the emphasis at the breakdown has now tilted the balance too far in favour of the defending team and will raise those concerns at an IRB meeting next Tuesday.

"Injuries are becoming an increasing concern within the game at large," said Andrew.

"In the autumn we were operating with 40% of both the senior and Saxons squads being injured. That is unsustainable as far as the game is concerned long-term.

"The game has to look at the upward trend and whether it means more law-changes, unfortunately, we can't continue with this level of injury.

"The anecdotal view from players and coaches in the Premiership is that the increased collisions because of the difficulty of moving the player away from the breakdown is contributing to a greater risk of injury."