Martin Johnson: 'English rugby was dragged through the mud'
ESPN Staff
September 27, 2014
England manager Martin Johnson reflects on his side's World Cup exit, England press conference, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand, October 9, 2011
Martin Johnson endured a difficult 2011 Rugby World Cup © Getty Images

Martin Johnson has opened up on the wretched 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign and admitted English rugby was "dragged through the mud" while conceding "we got caught out off the field".

Johnson, who captained England to the 2003 World Cup, was team manager for the last global gathering. England went into the tournament as Six Nations champions but endured a tournament where they made more headlines for their off-field behaviour than their form on the turf.

It was a World Cup of ill discipline for England where incidents such as Manu Tuilagi diving into Auckland harbour from a ferry, a series of gumshield violations and various stories originating from a night out in Queenstown blighted their campaign.

Johnson left his role in the wake of the World Cup and has kept his council since but opened up on the World Cup fiasco on Thursday. He admits he would have done things differently and expressed regret over how the campaign panned out.

"The worst thing was the way the game got dragged through the mud," Johnson said. "It wasn't actually a true reflection of those people and what we were about, but you're fighting a tidal wave almost at that point because everyone 'knows' what's happened because they've read about it.

"People start telling me what it was like when I was there.....that's the battle you have to win. That was my mistake, you have to win that battle as well. It's almost like a sales job. You see some organisations that are perceived a certain way publicly when actually they're not like that - good and bad because it goes both ways.

"In 2003 once you've won the World Cup, everything is portrayed as being great and a perfect working machine. But of course it wasn't - we were all human beings, we all made mistakes, had our frailties and did similar things that the boys did in 2011. It just didn't get to that level and didn't get recorded. And then you win, so everything is all right."

While Johnson clearly feels the strength of criticism received was undeserved, he knows many of the wounds were self-inflicted as England were aware of the pitfalls awaiting in New Zealand.

"We got caught out off the field. We were aware of what could happen and warned the players, but it still happened," Johnson said. "The disappointing thing is that it's something we fell into even though we knew it was there.

"We warned the players about it and you think you've covered it off, when maybe you haven't covered it off. Maybe you have to say it every day. The difficult thing is that it gets perceived as something that it wasn't really.

"But if enough people say it is something, then everyone believes that is what it was. You're fighting a difficult battle. I'm not saying that things didn't happen, but I'm saying the perception is that that was the only thing that happened. That became the story rather than the rugby and that's what gets remembered."

Martin Johnson faces the press on the day he resigned as England coach © Getty Images
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