Johnson regains captaincy as new hands take Tigers' reins

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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson is to take up his old job as Leicester captain. England's World Cup-winning leader, who retired from international rugby last month, relinquished the Leicester job last season, giving his England colleague Neil Back the position.

But just two months into his reign, Back has asked Johnson to take over in the wake of coach Dean Richards' departure from Wheldon Road on Monday.

Back was yesterday named temporary assistant coach as the club search for Richards' replacement with four senior figures in a caretaker management team. The forwards coach John Wells is temporary head coach, with Back his assistant. Johnson is also a member of the temporary management team and he returns as captain against Sale tomorrow.

"Johnno returning will allow Neil Back to concentrate on his new role, where he will be involved with certain aspects of the coaching," Wells said. "Martin being here during the Six Nations when Neil is away will bring some continuity, and it's a case of making best use of the available resources."

Johnson said: "What's happened this week has been very upsetting for everyone concerned, but we have to get on with it and play some rugby."

One applicant to replace Richards on a permanent basis is thought to be Jim Mallinder, and Sale yesterday saidthey were set to part company with their long-serving coach in a staff overhaul. Sale have already replaced Mallinder's assistant Steve Diamond, who is joining Saracens, and said they have been talking to a number of top coaches around the world.

In a statement, the club's owner and chairman, Brian Kennedy, said Mallinder would remain as head coach until his contract runs out in June and that his future was decided. But Mallinder, who has spent the last 15 years with the Manchester club as player and coach, is thought to have applied for the Leicester post after contract talks with Kennedy broke down.

"Jim has been fully aware that we have been in discussion with a small but élite number of top-quality coaches from around the world in order that we ensure we make the correct managerial appointments for the future," Kennedy said. "I stress that Jim is in contention for such appointments but, of course, to protect his own future he has made us aware he too is surveying possibilities available in the market.

"I further stress, however, that until June 2004 Jim Mallinder is contracted as head coach of Sale Sharks."

Meanwhile, Sale's club captain Pete Anglesea, currently out with injury, has been appointed the forwards coach for the rest of the season.

For the Premiership match at Edgeley Park tomorrow, Leicester welcome back their centre Daryl Gibson and the back-rower Martin Corry after they pulled hamstrings in the England versus New Zealand Barbarians match. Steve Booth is fit despite limping out of Friday's loss to Stade Français with an ankle injury. Andy Goode returns after missing four matches due to not being registered for European competition.

* The Brive second-rower John Welborn has been suspended until 22 February for trampling in the Parker Pen Challenge Cup quarter-final against Harlequins.

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