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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 January, 2004, 16:37 GMT
Johnson quits England
Martin Johnson
Most of all, I will remember the moments together as a squad, just before and just after matches
Martin Johnson
England captain Martin Johnson has announced his retirement from international rugby.

Johnson led England to World Cup victory in November, saving one of his finest performances for the dramatic win over Australia in the final.

He captained England 39 times during his 84 Tests and led the British Lions on tours in 1997 and 2001.

Johnson released a statement before the end of Leicester's 49-7 win over Ulster saying it had taken "a lot of thought".

The statement said: "This has not been an easy decision to make after talking to my family and friends, and after a lot of thought, I have decided to retire from international rugby with immediate effect.

"It has been a privilege to play for England, alongside some great players and with a great coaching staff.

"It has, of course, been a massive honour for me to captain my country.

'Outstanding figure'

"There have been many highlights - the Grand Slam, winning the World Cup - but most of all, I will remember the moments together as a squad, just before and just after matches, in the changing room.

"I would like to thank Clive [Woodward] and the other coaches who have worked with me since I made my debut, the guys I have played with and the fans who have followed us around the world."

Whoever takes his place will have very big boots to fill
England team-mate Richard Hill

Woodward reacted to the news by talking of his regret at losing such an "outstanding" figure.

"I made it clear during the Rugby World Cup that I would have liked him to captain England in our defence of the Grand Slam but I fully support his decision," he said.

"I can't speak highly enough of Martin.

"He has made an outstanding contribution for his country both as a player and as captain on and off the pitch.

"He stands down now having achieved everything there is to achieve as an England player and I hope he will be involved in some other capacity in the international team in the future.

"I wish him all the best."

Former Lions coach Ian McGeechan added his tribute, saying England "won't be the same side without him".

He added: "To me, there is no doubt that he has been the outstanding world figure in rugby over the past few years."

Leicester captain Neil Back described his Tigers and England colleague as "a fantastic role model for youngsters, and a true ambassador for the sport".

Fellow World Cup winner Richard Hill added: "Whoever takes his place will have very big boots to fill, as he has been fantastic during his time in charge."

Woodward now faces the almost impossible task of finding a suitable replacement for Johnson as both player and captain.

Back, Hill, Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Matt Dawson and Phil Vickery are among the favourites to be handed the captaincy by Woodward.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Martin Johnson
"You know in your heart when it's time to go"



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