Johnson concern for integrity of the game
August 12, 2009
Martin Johnson signs autographs for fans during England's open training session at Twickenham © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson has urged the rugby community to learn from it recent travails and preserve the integrity of the game.
The sport has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks with Premiership giants Bath plagued by drugs-related controversy and English rivals Harlequins found guilty of misconduct after faking a blood injury to engineer a substitution. In response, Johnson has urged the sport as a whole to work together to restore rugby's reputation.
"There is pressure to be successful and we all have that as players and coaches," Johnson told reporters at Twickenham. "It's a big business, a big industry but the integrity of the sport is its main strength and we've got to keep it that way.
"I think the great thing about this game is the people involved, the players, the supporters and everyone else. We want to keep our integrity, there are ills in our society and we have to be vigilant. I don't think we've got a major problem but I don't think we should be complacent with that."
The popularity of England's national side appears to be intact however with thousands of fans flocking to the team's open training session at their south west London home.
Johnson's first training camp of the season has been disrupted by injuries and the delayed return of his British & Irish Lions contingent but the England boss welcomed the chance to work with his younger players and hailed the energy within the squad.
"We're a more experienced team coming back and more of a team," Johnson explained. "It would have been great to have everyone fit and ready to go on the field this week but with where players are it just was not possible.
Amongst those on show for fans at Twickenham were fly-half Jonny Wilkinson who along with fellow Elite Player Squad member Riki Flutey, and many others with international aspirations, will be plying their trade in France's Top 14 this season.
Johnson has no scheduled plans to cross to the continent on a scouting mission and will have to rely on DVDs to monitor the progress of his charges but insists the communication channels are open with all the clubs, coaches and players in question. Stade Francais coach Ewen McKenzie revealed such dialogue earlier this week in relation to two of his new recruits - England internationals James Haskell and Tom Palmer.
"We've had good chats with them," said Johnson. "Our coaches will have worked with them longer and will have an opinion on what the guys need to improve on, and we'll speak to Ewen, who is new at working with them, and see what he has to say and how he wants the player to play and what he wants them to do.
"With a guy like James [Haskell] in the backrow there are a number of things you can ask him to do. It's good to know how he [Ewen] sees him playing and where he sees him going.
"It's good actually to sit down, particularly with the French guys, the Premiership is the Premiership, and it's interesting to hear their ideas and what they think of the players. We've had some good chats and will continue to do so."
England face giants Australia and New Zealand, as well as Argentina, in November and Johnson has been following this year's Tri-Nations battle closely as he plots a reversal in fortunes having succumbed all too easily to the southern hemisphere's finest last autumn.
"There has been some really intense rugby played. If you look at the Lions series, the physicality of that and obviously South Africa have got themselves ahead right now in terms of results and they're playing some very effective and efficient rugby that's hugely physical.
"We've got to be able to match that and go further. I don't think the challenge changes that much. They are very skilful, physical, and efficient and take their chances because they are used to playing a high level of Test match rugby. In the Tri-Nations each team will play six tough matches and it will be a big challenge in the autumn that we have got to prove as a team that we have come a long way."