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Page last updated at 16:38 GMT, Friday, 18 April 2008 17:38 UK

England's new dawn under Johnson

By Simon Austin
BBC Sport at Twickenham

Martin Johnson
The RFU is confident Johnson will bring back the glory days

There was much talk of a "new era" as Martin Johnson was introduced to the press in his new guise as England's team manager on Friday.

It was hardly surprising the Rugby Football Union was eager to draw a line under the last few weeks and herald a new dawn.

In appointing the 38-year-old as England's supremo, the RFU has arrived at the right destination but travelled a messy and embarrassing course to get there.

The whole affair has been played out in public and sources close to former head coach Brian Ashton claim he was not kept as fully informed during the process as the media were.

So what should have been a cause for celebration at Twickenham on Friday turned into something of a firefighting exercise.

RFU chief Francis Baron started by admitting, with some understatement, that "we could have handled the situation better and lessons have been learnt".

When asked whether Ashton had been kept informed about his future, Baron performed a neat sidestep and gave a metaphorical "hospital pass" to director of elite rugby Rob Andrew.

Andrew has been vilified in the media, and on the BBC Sport website's messageboards, for his "betrayal" of Ashton.

Before England played Ireland in their final Six Nations match last month, the former England fly-half had said the head coach's job was safe, yet on Tuesday he sacked Ashton.

Andrew performed with poise and dexterity in the face of some tough questioning on Friday.

Rob Andrew
Andrew faced some difficult questions about his actions

He explained that the appointment of a team manager had been a key objective of his World Cup review, which was completed last December.

Ashton had seen this as "a number two role, reporting to him as head coach" and six potential candidates had been sounded out before the start of the Six Nations.

Yet after speaking to Johnson about the role for the first time on 20 March, it became clear that England's World Cup-winning captain saw things very differently.

If Johnson was to become manager, he would insist on being supremo, with total control over team selection and the coaching staff.

With Ashton refusing to be an assistant, it became a "him or me" situation and there was only ever going to be one winner.


Another thing Andrew did not say was that he had come under strong pressure from the RFU management board to appoint Johnson.

As reported on the BBC Sport website on 13 March, many members of the board had already lost faith in Ashton by the time England played their final Six Nations match against Ireland.

It was made clear to Andrew that he would have to make major changes to the coaching set-up and make them fast.

Andrew was armed with a copy of his job description when he arrived at Twickenham on Friday and told the assembled journalists "in spite of what some of you may think, I have been quite busy in the last 18 months".

And, despite the bunglings of the last few weeks, Andrew made a convincing case for claiming English rugby is entering a bright new era.

The agreement with the Premiership clubs, which comes into force on 1 July, will give Johnson and Andrew complete control over England's elite players.

13 March: BBC Sport reports that members of RFU management board want Ashton replaced
15 March: England beat Ireland, but Rob Andrew instructed by board to complete Six Nations review within two weeks and to recommend changes
20 March: Andrew meets Martin Johnson to offer him role of team manager
26 March: Andrew reports to board and instructed to sign Johnson without delay
8 April: RFU chief Francis Baron says Ashton's job is safe
15 April: Andrew meets Ashton at Twickenham to tell him he has lost his job as head coach
16 April: Announcement from RFU that Johnson is new manager/ Ashton sacked as head coach

Exciting young talents such as Danny Cipriani, James Haskell, Shane Geraghty and Tom Rees are already making an impact with the national side and more like them are on their way.

England are unbeaten at every level below the senior side this year and Ashton - the man who brought talents such as Cipriani through - is poised to return to the National Academy.

Harshly as Ashton has been treated by the RFU, head of the National Academy seems the ideal role for him, and Baron praised his "outstanding record of developing young talent".

At elite level, Johnson's authority, stature and rugby brain also seem to make him an ideal fit as team manager.

"Looking forward, I felt Martin Johnson was the right guy to build on that work and really drive forward with the new group of players coming through," Andrew said.

Johnson will now set about appointing an attack coach to his back-room team and will take as much time and look as far afield as necessary to get the right man.

England's World Cup-winning skipper added that he was "very confident" he had both the budget and job description required to be successful.

Johnson said he wanted to create a team capable of beating any other side in the world, but admitted he would not able to wave a magic wand to achieve results.

"I am not thinking I am going to turn up and it will work straight away," he said. "It is about creating an environment and getting the right people in around the team."

see also
Johnson excited by England role
18 Apr 08 |  English
Ashton 'will take new RFU post'
18 Apr 08 |  English
Axe hanging over Ashton
13 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
English club-v-country row ended
02 Nov 07 |  Rugby Union
RFU could manage England's elite
23 Jan 07 |  English
Andrew accepts top England role
18 Aug 06 |  English
Will Woodward return to rugby?
27 Apr 06 |  Internationals

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