Johnson hits out at critics after Tigers' tame display
Biarritz 23 - Leicester 8
Monday 01 November 2004
Professional rugby can be a confusing business. Here we are, accepting with the utmost reluctance that the days of wine and roses and 15 pints and a curry have gone, and that full-time dedication to the sport is an essential prerequisite. Then along comes Martin Johnson, an unimpeachable hero to all right-thinking followers of the game, to debunk the myth. "Just because you don't train on a Tuesday," Johnson said, "doesn't make people drop the ball [on a Saturday]."
So there you have it. Let's all spend more time chilling out and a little less swigging the chemical-free, vitamin-rich smoothies. You can hear the sighs of relief from players across the land - have a lie-in this morning, boys, training's an optional extra.
Last midweek, in case you have failed to follow this fast- developing soap opera, Johnson was thousands of miles from the Tigers' training ground on a testimonial engagement in Singapore. Several other players were excused duty to receive their post-World Cup honours at Buckingham Palace. The first full team run of the week was on the afternoon before this important match in the Heineken Cup.
But Johnson, who, it must be said, would turn in a presentable performance if he spent the preceding month down a mineshaft feeding on bread and water, refused to concede that these distractions were a factor in a frustratingly fitful, two-tries-to-one defeat. "It's a mental thing," the Leicester captain said. "We weren't mentally right to play the game. Because we didn't train has got nothing to do with it. No one played to their level, simple as that."
Johnson was in the mood to shoot the messenger, but it is Leicester who are giving out mixed messages. John Wells, the head coach, has been banging on about the disruption to his preparations caused by players disappearing for England training sessions. Is a concerted approach important, or isn't it?
Johnson admitted his side were "a little bit tired in the middle of the first half", when Federico Martin Aramburu and Jimmy Marlu scored game-breaking tries for Biarritz, and "lethargic". The confusion is more acute precisely because Leicester as a club have set high standards on and off the field.
It would not be hazarding the wildest guess to suggest that Johnson was hurting - all right, mentally if not physically - after Leicester were outplayed by opponents who had, funnily enough, put in four days' work together beforehand. Tigers kicked off the campaign by losing at Sale, then ran into some very good form before dropping off a couple of notches of late. Some of the backs - including Andy Goode, who missed four kicks at goal - are carrying injuries, and two forwards, George Chuter and Martin Corry, are serving bans for stamping.
An away defeat on a ground where Biarritz have lost once in 13 Heineken Cup matches does not mean the end of Leicester's season. Nor is it an end to this particular argument.
Biarritz: Tries Martin Aramburu, Marlu; Conversions Yachvili 2; Penalties Yachvili 2; Drop goal Yachvili. Leicester: Try Rabeni; Penalty Goode.
Biarritz: N Brusque; P Bidabé, F Martin Aramburu, D Traille (T Lacroix, 60), J Marlu; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; P Balan (D Avril, 75), B August (J-M Gonzalez, 62), Avril (B Lecouls, 62), J Thion (capt), D Couzinet (O Booyse, 59), S Betsen, I Harinordoquy, S Malonga (C Milhères, 68).
Leicester: G Murphy; S Vesty, S Rabeni (M Cornwell, 80), D Gibson, J Holtby (A Tuilagi, 49); A Goode, H Ellis; G Rowntree (D Morris, 64), R Cockerill, (J Buckland, 6-13, 49), J White, M Johnson (capt), B Kay, L Moody, W Johnson (H Tuilagi, 44), N Back.
Referee: D Courtney (Ireland).
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