Yes, I managed to catch up with Martin Johnson over a couple of beers following the conclusion of this year’s Autumn internationals. No, of course it wasn’t THE Martin Johnson – don’t be ridiculous – but it was nevertheless a Martin Johnson, a passionate England rugby fan and regular at my local with quite a few things to contribute about the state of English rugby.
The conversation took the following course:
TF: So, Martin, what did you think of England's efforts during the autumn series?
MJ: Not good enough - we're not big enough, fit enough, powerful enough, nasty enough, clever enough or skillful enough. Unlike most of the national press, however, I'm really not that surprised. We've been pants for some time now, two matches in the World Cup notwithstanding.
TF: Didn't any England players impress?
MJ: Yes, Delon Armitage played well throughout the series - he could finally be the long-awaited solution at fullback. Tom Rees battled well and I suppose Nick Easter was half-decent at times but (and it pains me to say this) I wouldn't have a single Englishman in a Lions 22 based on current form. How sad is that?
TF: So you were impressed by the Welsh then?
MJ: Not hugely, but they're currently miles better than England.
TF: So, is your namesake the right man for the job?
MJ: I bloody well hope so as the last thing we need right now is another change at the top. Let's face it though, things were never going to be easy. If he was under any illusions beforehand, he now knows what a nightmare job he's taken on. I hope he has the bottle to make the really tough decisions and that the RFU have the gumption to support him by getting in whoever he needs to improve things. A new forward's coach and defence coach would be a decent start but Johnno seems to be saying that no changes are necessary which doesn't bode too well.
TF: Why do you think things have deteriorated so badly?
MJ: I'd say we're paying for an utter failure for anyone to plan beyond 2003. We lost some key players to retirement and the back up players, although fairly experienced - and I'm talking about men like Worsley, Corry, Regan, Gomarsall, Hodgson etc - simply weren't up to it. We may have managed to produce a couple of decent performances in the World Cup last year but really since 2003 the coaches have been firefighting, papering over the cracks, shuffling deckchairs - whatever you want to call it - rather than building a team. Johnno's having to start from scratch really. Clive Woodward came back from Australia claiming that 2003 was the beginning of a golden age for English rugby. Golden age my arse.
TF: Thank you Martin.
MJ: You're welcome. Mine's a pint of IPA, cheers.