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Last Updated: Monday, 24 January, 2005, 13:01 GMT
Rugby's ultimate warrior
By Tom Fordyce and Rob Hodgetts

MARTIN JOHNSON
Martin Johnson
Full name: Martin Osborne Johnson
Age: 34
Born: 9 March 1970
Weight: 18st 10lbs (119kg)
Height: 6' 7" (2.01m)
England caps: 84
Lives: Market Harborough
Martin Johnson will retire at the end of the season as a true great, having accomplished virtually everything possible in the game of rugby.

He retired from England duty in 2004 after 11 years and 84 caps, and with a glittering haul of Triple Crowns, Six Nations titles, Grand Slams, a successful Lions tour, and a World Cup triumph.

And now he has also decided to quit the club game, where he has been an inspirational figure and an icon for Leicester Tigers.

Johnson was appointed club captain in 1997 and led the team to a Pilkington Cup victory, four successive Premiership titles (1999-2002) and back-to-back European Heineken Cup triumphs in 2001 and 2002.

But the man who came to personify the grit and drive of an English rugby bulldog so nearly became an All Black idol instead.

He had joined Leicester in 1989 but that summer he played for King Country in New Zealand and was selected for the NZ U21 team to tour Australia the following year.

Fortunately for both England and Tigers fans, he returned to the country of his birth, and was selected for England B in 1992 before making his senior England debut as a late replacement for Wade Dooley in 1993.

So began his path to greatness, founded on immense power in the scrum from his position as lock, ability at the front of the line-out and charging drives in the loose.

Sure, his critics might carp, he was a little too happy to occasionally wade over the line that separates hard but fair from hard but illegal, but you don't win that many caps at the top level without having a well-developed sense of self-preservation.

Yet it was as a captain that he truly made his mark, first at Leicester and with the 1997 Lions and then with his country.

He might have got the England job by default when Lawrence Dallaglio was forced to step down following newspaper allegations in 1999, but he made the position his own by leading the side in his own unique way.

Lions coach Ian McGeechan summed up Johnson's basic qualities when he said: "I just thought of him walking down the corridor, and the South Africans opening the changing room door.

"They'd look up and see Johnno and know that we meant business."

There wouldn't be many smiley photo-opportunities (when asked to pose for a picture before the World Cup, Johnson is rumoured to have replied: "I don't pose - I stand") and his news conferences were certainly short on laughter and self-analysis.

Martin Johnson smiles
Johnson has won everything he could hope to win

But on the pitch, where it mattered, he was a colossus.

There would be no backward steps when Johnson was in charge, no shirking when it came to making the hardest of yards.

It is no coincidence that, of the three Grand Slam deciders England lost between 1999 and 2001, Johnson was absent for two.

He became the first man ever to captain the Lions on two separate tours when he led the side to Australia in 2001.

But the 2003 World Cup final against Australia saw him at his best.

With Jonny Wilkinson lying injured on the Sydney turf, Johnson turned away from the stricken talisman to face his remaining troops.

"Don't look at him. We'll win it whether he stays on or not," was the gist of his gruff exhortation.

And he looked like the last man in the world you would want to have running at you, shoulder down, ball under arm, other hand out in front like a battering ram.

All of which is at odds with the man away from rugby, a chap who is such a dab hand at changing nappies that Jason Leonard nicknamed him "Mum", and who knows more items of arcane sporting trivia than any anorak-wearing statto.

Johnson bowed out of international rugby at the zenith of his career, and has left a gaping void in leadership which England are struggling to fill.

Tigers, too, have been indebted to him for their return to the top of the Premiership after a couple of lacklustre seasons.

With an MBE and a CBE to his name as well, Johnson has surpassed what can normally be expected from a player whose main job is to stick his head between another man's legs and push.


SEE ALSO
Martin Johnson: Six of the best
17 Jan 04 |  Rugby Union
'The heartbeat of the team'
17 Jan 04 |  Rugby Union
Johnson's career in pictures
17 Jan 04 |  Photo Galleries
Who will succeed captain Johnson?
12 Jan 04 |  Internationals


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