Johnson era dawns over Twickenham
John Taylor
April 18, 2008

"We can take it as read that he has guarantees of a free hand, an unlimited budget and almost absolute power. Effectively, he has leapfrogged Rob Andrew." John Taylor delivers his verdict on Johnson's arrival.

Martin Johnson - England Manager. If it were Sven-Goran Eriksson or Fabio Capello there would be no doubts about what that title means but in rugby it is a new post.

Call him what you will and throw all the brickbats and abuse they deserve at Rob Andrew, Francis Baron, Club England, in fact the whole of the Rugby Football Union but somehow they have got the right man in the right job - at last.

Johnson is England's new rugby supremo and, just like Sir Clive Woodward - who chose the title of head coach - he will be in total control.

Other countries have 'team' managers who spend their time organising the logistics of accommodation, travel etc. They are basically dogsbodies for the head coach and have no input into selection and coaching.

The one exception is the Lions where the manager is the first man appointed and then has a major input into the selection of coaches, players and teams. Even that changed when Woodward was allowed free rein, with disastrous results, in New Zealand in 2005 (you would never have known Bill Beaumont was there let alone manager) but it will be back to normal under Gerald Davies next year in South Africa.

Significantly, Johnson has not even talked of appointing a 'head' coach so we can take it as read that he is filling that position. Instead he has re-appointed John Wells and Graham Rowntree as forwards and scrummaging specialists. Hardly a surprise, they are both Leicester men he knows well and trusts completely - we might even see Wells smile.

More controversially he has also stuck with Mike Ford as defence coach. The ex-rugby league player quickly acquired an impressive CV in union but is not every player's cup of tea. He certainly does not have the motivational man management of Shaun Edwards but by the time Johnson was on board Edwards was lost to Wales.

Johnson apparently tried to tempt Edwards by offering him the 'attack' coach role (Edwards has made no secret that that is where he wants to use his talents next) but is now focusing on Jim Mallinder to the dismay of Northampton owner Keith Barwell.

Mike Catt is another ex-playing colleague who has thrown his hat in the ring.

But what about Johnson himself. He is certainly not a 'suit' and whatever his worries about his own lack of a coaching pedigree I expect to see him out there at training sessions in a tracksuit overseeing everything that goes on - just like Woodward but without the megalomania.

Sooner rather than later I expect him to start coaching specialist areas such as line-out and maul which he knows a thing or two about and I believe his coaching role will gradually become more hands-on rather than the other way round which is the normal progression.

If you are a budding coach and looking to take some of your RFU badges this summer, don't be surprised if you recognise the towering figure on the same course. Johnson wants to do things properly and I shall be surprised if he is not fully qualified to coach at the top level in record time

Despite his self-deprecating admission that he has little or no experience and there is no guarantee his playing achievements have prepared him for his new role, he has already dipped his toes in the water and has some very firm ideas about what makes a good coach.

He set-up the very successful 'Martin Johnson's Coaching Camps' in conjunction with the RFU back in 2005 and on the website he sets out his '8 tips for successful rugby coaching.'

These coaching camps are for talented youngsters but they give an insight into what his new charges can expect. Take tip no. 5.

'As a coach you should lead by example to gain the trust and respect of the kids. Coaches of children are seen as role models and therefore the position carries responsibility. How you behave, dress and your attitude all set an example. These high standards will rub off.'

Pretty forthright stuff - he has obviously learned a lot about attention to detail from Woodward. Ironically, I expect his final appointment to be a 'team' manager to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Johnson holds a unique place in English rugby and his appointment has already resulted in a real feel-good factor from players and fans.

They have good reason to cheer. He is a proven winner and he has the talent and determination to succeed. But perhaps even more important is his ruthlessness.

We can take it as read that he has guarantees of a free hand, an unlimited budget and almost absolute power. Effectively, he has leapfrogged Rob Andrew.

Finally, a thought for poor old Brian Ashton. He has been treated disgracefully but deep in their heart of hearts most people inside the game know he was never a natural number one.

At least he has been rewarded handsomely and at the age of 61 can presumably decide to retire if he so wishes with a very substantial lump-sum to supplement his pension and soften the blow.

If not he has a nice little number at the National Academy for another few years safe in the knowledge that nobody would dare to sack him again.

One thing is certain. The man taking over will leave at a time of his choosing.

Check out this Martin Johnson programming on ESPN Classic in the UK:

+ Saturday 19th April 17.35 and Sunday 20th - 14.30

"The Legends Speak: Johnson on Johnson" - Looking back at the extraordinary career of former England rugby union captain and legend of the game, Martin Johnson CBE.

+ Monday 21st April 23.30

"The Legends Speak: Johnson on Johnson" - Looking back at the extraordinary career of former England rugby union captain and legend of the game, Martin Johnson CBE.

+ Tuesday 22nd April 00.05

"Rugby World Cup Winners 2003: England" - The story behind the greatest triumph for English sport in the 21st century, England's 2003 Rugby World Cup campaign, where legends were born.

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