MARTIN JOHNSON HAS said that his decision to step down as England rugby manager was not an easy one, but one which was taken with the best interests of the team and the country at heart.
Johnson spoke to the media earlier today after it emerged that he would not be seeking an extension to his three-and-a-half year term as England boss.
The decision comes just five weeks after England’s calamitous Rugby World Cup exit to France in the quarter-finals.
After an excellent Six Nations and warm-up campaign, Johnson’s side began the tournament as one of the sides fancied to lift the Webb Ellis Cup but saw their challenge crumble amid a torrent of off-field controversy.
“I didn’t come to this decision lightly but I think it’s in the best interests of the team and myself that I don’t continue,” Johnson said this afternoon.
“It’s not a decision I’ve come to quickly or easily. I just think it’s the right decision at this time.
“I said all the way through that we’re very lucky to do what we do — to be involved with top level sport, international sport. There is a lot of the job that you’ll always miss being involved at this level. But ultimately you make your decision and that’s the decision I’ve come to.
I’ve always had the best interests of the English team and English rugby in my decisions whenever I’ve tried to make them. For myself and for the team, it’s the right call to make now.
While Johnson conceded that England’s off-field behaviour in New Zealand could have been better managed and even avoided, he denied that it had forced his decision to step down.
“I’ve tried to take the emotion out of a lot of it and the disappointment.
Obviously, the off the field things during the World Cup didn’t help. I think it portrays the team in a bad light and not in an accurate light, but that’s where we were. We gave people the opportunity to report on us as they did.
“It’s not a knee-jerk reaction. It’s a considered, thoughtful decision that I’ve come to.
“We’ve come a long way, but we try to take the whole picture into consideration, not just what happened at the tournament. At the World Cup, we we lost a game. We weren’t good enough particularly in the first half against France, a team that could’ve gone on to win the World Cup.
“Ultimately we didn’t play well enough on the day. That’ll always be a disappointment.”
The RFU’s elite rugby director Rob Andrew also paid tribute to Johnson for his work with the side, but promised that lessons would be learned from the World Cup.
“We have always insisted that Martin would take the team to the World Cup and we would then assess what steps would be taken,” Andrew said. “Martin has made this decision and we fully respect that.
He has handled himself with great dignity and integrity throughout his time as England Team Manager, as he did when he was England captain. He is a hugely respected figure in the English game and, although we were all disappointed with the way the World Cup turned out, we need to ensure that moving forward we learn the lessons that came out of the campaign.
Asked if he intended to resign his own position with the RFU, Andrew said that he had no plans to do so.