View from New Zealand: Johnson's worst nightmare comes true

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The Independent Online

Twickenham used to be a cabbage patch. At times it had the summer smell of rotting vegetables but these days winter cannot hide the whiff of decaying rugby corpses at the sporting citadel.

Some with spiteful natures would suggest the arena should be turned back into an allotment and the England players rehired as gardeners after the tribulations of their 42-6 thumping from the Springboks.

All guns are now turned, it seems, even from those who were unable to wipe the dribble from their fawning mouths during the worst times of the Sir Clive Woodward era, on new coach Martin Johnson and those who have been charged to wear the white jerseys.

Five years since Johnson held aloft the Webb Ellis Trophy after a deserved England victory, the big man is starting to feel the bite of international coaching. Three games and two defeats, two losses by widening margins and the All Blacks to follow this weekend.

Suddenly the world must feel as if it is closing in on Johnson. Not that he ever scurried away from tough times before but even in his worst dreams he might not have envisaged the mess England are in at the moment.

The English administrators came tapping on Johnson's massive shoulders, men like Rob Andrew wanted Johnson to take over from Brian Ashton even though he had no coaching experience at high levels. Since his retirement from active service, Johnson had been patrolling the corporate corridors until he was persuaded to take on the top job.

For whatever reason, Johnson agreed and is now feeling the heat which used to be the preserve of some of his coaching predecessors. The transition from civvy street to manager is now looking like an alarming crossover.

Another former England lock, Paul Ackford, who plies his trade as rugby correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, was blunt in his assessment.

"It is now self-evident," he wrote, "that Martin Johnson is unable to exert the same influence on a team from the stands as he did as a player."

If England are to be seeded in the top bracket for the 2011 World Cup, they have to beat the All Blacks this weekend at Twickenham. No one, not even those who have watched too much rugby through rose-coloured spectacles, believe that will occur.

England should have fancied their chances against a Springbok side which had staggered to wins against Wales and Scotland. Instead the hosts plummeted to their worst defeat at Twickenham. There are already cries about that margin only lasting a week with the All Blacks up next.

That is dangerous talk and almost obnoxious but England do have an awful lot of work to do this week to recover. If they do have the best players in the country as Johnson obviously believes, it will be fascinating to see his selection reaction to the weekend thrashing. There have been widespread calls to sack young five-eighths Danny Cipriani and whistle up some other hard nuts, so Johnson's next team announcement tomorrow should be a corker.

This story was sourced from The New Zealand Herald