RFU chairman defends support of Johnson

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The Independent Online

Rugby Football Union chairman Martyn Thomas has defended Twickenham's decision to back England manager Martin Johnson through to the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

Johnson's record since he took charge ahead of the 2008 autumn internationals is eight wins from 19 Tests - a 42% success rate inferior to his immediate predecessor Brian Ashton (55%) and no improvement on Andy Robinson's record (41%).

The RFU were criticised for their treatment of Ashton, who was relieved of his duties after England had reached the 2007 World Cup final and finished second in the 2008 Six Nations.

England were third in this year's championship but Thomas remains convinced the RFU have the right elite structure in place, headed by Rob Andrew, and that their new patient approach will be rewarded.

"Martin Johnson has got the management board's complete confidence through to the World Cup," said Thomas.

"He has absolutely the total backing of the board and executive staff, everyone as far as I am concerned. He will be there to take us into New Zealand 2011.

"Just like the fans, we are disappointed in the Six Nations. For the spectators, rugby is about the last game. That is the view we have taken on the management board.

"On this occasion, Martin has put in place a good discipline within the team that, rightly or wrongly, we felt wasn't there in the past.

"He has also demonstrated a loyalty to the players and indeed to his coaching staff. So, from where we sit we actually feel he is doing the job.

"I know there is a perception we have been harsh in the past, perhaps you will credit us for being gentler in the future."

That approach also applies to Andrew, whose position as elite rugby director has come under fire following England's disappointing Six Nations return.

Lawrence Dallaglio was fiercely critical of Andrew and said changes are needed right at the top of the elite department if England are to have aspirations of being world champions once again.

Sir Clive Woodward was championed in some quarters as a possible replacement for Andrew, who originally beat him to the job in 2006.

But Thomas reiterated the RFU are not planning a shake-up of a department which is responsible for more than just the senior England team.

"We are quite happy here with the structure we have got in place and we believe that is the structure that will prevail," he said.

"There are currently no vacancies in the RFU's elite rugby department and there have been no formal or informal discussions with Clive or Jake White, who was mentioned the other day.

"In fairness to Clive, the situation is that he has got a role at the British Olympic Association going towards 2012 and it must be causing him some difficulties when he walks in every day and his bosses read that he is leaving, which isn't the case.

"Rob's job is not to manage the England team. His job is to manage all the representative sides. There are some successes there with the under-20s and the under-18s, who have not lost in 16 games since 2007."

Thomas does not envisage any changes to Johnson's coaching team either, despite Brian Smith, John Wells and Mike Ford all having their contributions questioned at different points this season.

Johnson, the only member of the senior England management team contracted through to the World Cup, is responsible for the hiring and firing of his coaches.

"The coaches are very close and there are perhaps not the divisions people like to speculate about," said Thomas.

Thomas may be happy with the development England made as a squad during the Six Nations, but he accepts it was only apparent on the field in their last match against France.

England played with attacking ambition in Paris and pushed the Grand Slam champions to the wire and the pressure is on Johnson to build on that this summer.

"We need to see where we go now, frankly, on the summer tour after the performance in Paris," said Thomas.

But the RFU could well find their patience and "gentler" approach tested to the full between now and the World Cup as England tackle a fearsome fixture schedule.

Two Tests against Australia, midweek games against the Australian Barbarians and a tough appointment with the New Zealand Maori are booked in for the summer.

England then return home for an autumn series against the Wallabies, South Africa, Samoa and the All Blacks before the 2011 Six Nations.