Johnson hits back at ‘ill-informed’ critics

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Had England not produced their most convincing performance of the Six Nations against France on Saturday, the post-championship fallout could have been a whole lot worse.

However, there have still been strong calls for a total revamp with regards the management of the international team. RFU director Rob Andrew’s position has been called into question, as has those of Martin Johnson and the rest of his backroom staff.

John Wells, Brian Smith, Mike Ford and Graham Rowntree have all had the finger pointed at them after a trying couple of years under Johnson’s management; but the England head coach is adamant that they are the best individuals for the job in hand.

In fact, the 40-year-old went as far to say that their contribution has been “outstanding” during his tenure. Many supporters have regarded this as a particularly shining example of blind loyalty - even by Johnson’s standards.

The likes of Matt Dawson, Jeff Probyn and Lawrence Dallaglio have all called for a change in personnel over recent months; but the England boss has responded by slamming his coaching staff’s critics and branding them as "ill-informed".

"It's not the ex-players having a go at the coaching staff, it's just criticising has become the thing to do in English rugby," Johnson said. "You see the criticism thrown in by people and you think, what the h**l do you know about it?"

At present, there is a universal tendency to criticise the national team at the drop of a hat – but is it justified?

Less than seven years ago, England were the best in the business - World Cup winners, with Johnson and Wilkinson the star performers in one of the most glorious campaigns for British sport in modern times.

And then three years ago, England went desperately close to replicating that feat by reaching a second consecutive World Cup final – albeit, in slightly fortuitous circumstances.  These achievements, though, set the benchmark for what England fans expected in the future; and when a new coach struggles to live up to expectations, a backlash will inevitably follow.

The current England team is in now a state of transition. The next generation of England players are now beginning to rise to prominence – for their clubs, at least – and this is an encouraging sign for English rugby. But when the supporters’ pride is dented following a below-par showing at the Six Nations, it will always lead to a search for someone to blame.

In this case, it’s the coaching staff who have taken the brunt of the criticism – although that’s not to say that Johnson, Andrew and the players have escaped the fan’s wrath, far from it. The fickleness of supporters should never be underestimated and a decent showing this summer against Australia is the only way for Johnson and his staff to win over the disillusioned fans.

The 2010 Six Nations was neither particularly impressive or particularly bad – and that’s part of the problem for the critics of the current system. Those calling for a revamp at the top know that Johnson and his coaching staff are almost certain to take charge of England in the 2011 World Cup despite this distinctly average Six Nations campaign.

Just two wins, a draw and two defeats has marked a regression in standards compared to 2009’s hat-trick of victories. But a more worrying statistic is that in 26 away Tests since 2003 against New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, Wales, France, Scotland and Argentina – England have won just three matches.

However, it’s the RFU’s job to ignore the short-sightedness that will consistently arise in these situations. If they’re not a hundred per cent confident in Johnson’s ability to lead the team into next year’s World Cup then changes would have already been implemented.

The governing body may prompt him to review his coaching staff; but given Johnson’s reluctant to accept criticism of his closest aides, don’t expect any radical changes before next year’s World Cup. 



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