Jonathan Davies: No-nonsense titan is the perfect choice

Sunday 23 October 2011 08:13

Our rugby scene suddenly gained a new fascination with the appointment of Martin Johnson as England's supremo, but beforewe see his influence on the pitch, the first big contest to look forward to is Johnno v the RFU.

Not since Clive Woodward quit four years ago has that much-maligned organisation had such strong hands at the helm, and during that time two very good coaches have had their careers mangled, with English rugby's health suffering accordingly.

Everyone seems agreed that Brian Ashton has been appall-ingly treated, as was his predecessor, Andy Robinson. Their trouble was that they were too nice and polite to everybody, including the players. Johnson doesn't bring such qualities to the job. His will be a tough, no-nonsense approach and, presumably, that is what the RFU want.

But for Johnson to succeed, the RFU will have to learn what a back seat feels like. Coinciding with Johnson's starting date of 1 July, there will be a new administration structure in place which they claim will be far more professional, but it still requires him to establish firm control from the outset. And if that means standing up to the RFU's chief executive, Francis Baron, so be it. He must demand discipline, dedication and hard work from everyone in English rugby, from top to bottom. And he must do it now, while he is bullet-proof.

There is no question in my mind that Johnno is absolutely right for this challenge. He was the greatest English rugby player,one of the best I've seen anywhere. What's more, he was a clever footballer and knew what to do at any given time in a game.

His lack of experience on the coaching front may be seen by some as a weakness, but it's not coaching they are short of. You can have the best training drills, the finest gameplans and rotations, but it all comes down to what happens in 80 minutes on the field. That's where Johnson can apply his influence.

Last season I sat next to him in a television studio when England were playing Ireland and getting a right hammering in the line-out, and he was livid. He said that there would have been someone in the stand making notes about it to study on Monday.

"It's now they need to be told," he argued. So I don't think he'll be watching games from the stand. He'll be doing an Alex Ferguson on the touchline.

Johnson doesn't love the media but he is such an immense presence that he can cope with that aspect of the business. What he is more than anything is a players' man. He knows what makes them tick and they know that they daren't take any liberties.

We've witnessed what that sort of regime has done for Wales and I am sure Johnson will do the same for England. But he is the one taking the risk and it is his reputation on the line, so he has to make it work.

He doesn't have to look further than Ashton and Robinson for a lesson in what can happen to the nice guys. The same applied to the former Welsh coaches Mike Ruddock and Gareth Jenkins. We can safely say that Martin Johnson will not follow suit.

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