Johnson not ready to be rushed into key England role

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The Independent Online

A large number of people in English rugby believe Martin Johnson, a uniquely successful captain of the national side, would play a blinder of similar magnitude in the role of team manager. Just one problem: Martin Johnson is not among them. "I would not," he said yesterday, "be so arrogant as to think I could do anything of the sort without the relevant experience. This is not the right time for me. If and when I feel I want to be involved in coaching or management, I'll do something about it. But I wouldn't consider going straight in at England level."

Johnson is far more likely to surface on the new Professional Game Board, which will assume control of the elite professional game in July. "If someone wanted to talk to me about something like that, I'd listen to what they had to say," the former Leicester lock admitted. As both the Rugby Football Union and Premier Rugby, the two bodies with the lion's share of representation on the board, would value his input, he has every chance of receiving an offer.

Talking of Lions, the British and Irish variety confirmed Gerald Davies as manager of the squad scheduled to visit South Africa, the new world champions, for a three-Test series in the summer of 2009. One of the crown jewels of Welsh rugby during its golden era – in the late 1960s and early 70s he was every bit as cherished as Gareth Edwards or Barry John – Davies marked his appointment by mounting a strong defence of the institution's place at the heart of a sport increasingly dominated by narrow national agendas.

"Some see the Lions as an anachronism," said the one-time wing turned rugby chronicler and arch defender of the game's traditional values, at a function to launch a seven-figure sponsorship deal with the banking concern HSBC. "We have the support of a global business brand, we have television and commercial rights very much on our side and we expect 50,000 supporters to follow the Lions in South Africa. If that's an anachronism, let's have more anachronisms."

John Feehan, the chief executive of the Lions, was less than forthcoming on precisely how much the deal was worth – "All I can say is that six of the seven figures are zeros," he remarked – but the figure of £4m was doing the rounds. This much was certain, however: the 2009 venture will generate a vast amount of business by union standards. "When we last toured in 2005, the Lions replica shirt outsold the Real Madrid shirt over an eight-month period and was far and away the most lucrative product rugby has ever seen," Feehan said. "We anticipate another upturn as we move towards South Africa."

The Lions committee, headed by a new chairman in the former Scotland full-back Andy Irvine, will not decide on a coach until the completion of next year's Six Nations Championship, which ends in March. The chances of them looking outside the British Isles are very slim, but they will not necessarily appoint one of the current international incumbents: Brian Ashton of England, Eddie O'Sullivan of Ireland or Frank Hadden of Scotland. Ian McGeechan, the director of rugby at Wasps, is a live candidate for a fourth tour of duty. Interestingly, he also has the vote of Johnson.

Wales, who play the Springboks in Cardiff on Saturday, have recalled Gavin Henson to their starting line-up after travelling to the World Cup in France without him. The celebrity centre from the Ospreys will operate outside his club colleague James Hook, who has beaten the more experienced Stephen Jones to the No 10 shirt.

Morgan Stoddart of Llanelli Scarlets will make his Test debut at full-back in the absence of the injured Lee Byrne, while Robin Sowden-Taylor of Cardiff Blues fills the problem position of open-side flanker.

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