Johnno takes responsibility

Lions legend Martin Johnson admits he must take some of the responsibility for the series defeat to Australia nine years ago. [more]

Johnno takes responsibility

Lions legend Martin Johnson admits he must take some of the responsibility for the series defeat to Australia nine years ago.

The triple Lions tourist became the first player ever to be named squad captain for more than one tour when he accepted the honour in 2001, four years after leading the Lions to glory in South Africa.

But while the 1997 series was one of sport’s greatest success stories, the trip Down Under proved to be a less fruitful adventure.

The Lions played some stunning rugby on the 10-match tour and the 29-13 first-Test triumph against the Wallabies will go down in history as one of their greatest ever results but, ultimately, Johnson and co fell just short.

The World Champions hit back to win the series 2-1 with a 35-14 win in Melbourne and a 29-23 success in Sydney, leaving the British and Irish media to conduct a very public inquest into what went wrong.

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Much of the blame was pointed at outspoken tourists such as Austin Healy and Matt Dawson, whose public mutterings regarding coaching methods and opposition players had garnered the wrong sort of headlines.

Others highlighted the supposedly extreme training practices of head coach Graham Henry, with suggestions from press and players alike that the Lions were worked too hard at the end of a tough, tiring season.

One man who seemed to be exempt from criticism was Johnson himself. The model professional and a born winner, Johnson undoubtedly gave his all for Britain and Ireland’s elite. His efforts on and off the pitch attracted praise rather than criticism as he led by example in the toughest of environments.

But while others may have refused to point the finger in his direction, Johnson had no problems looking inward at his own contribution.

The Leicester lock has suggested that he would have done things differently if he could do it all again; that he would perhaps have taken a more conciliatory approach towards the so called ‘trouble makers’; and that he would have spent more time on each and evrey squad member if he could roll back the clock.

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Martin Johnson refused to hide away from the pain of a series defeat

"I have to take some of the blame," said Johnson in his autobiography.

"I think I could have done a better job of leading the party. Things had changed since 1997. Back then, a lot of people had just been happy to be there and keen to show the world that the northern hemisphere could play rugby.

"My own attitude had changed, too. In South Africa, I had been very aware of my position as a young and inexperienced captain, with plenty of senior players under me. Four years on, having led England and a very successful Leicester side for some years, I was more aware of what I wanted and needed from the players. As a result, I was probably more demanding and harder on the guys than I had been before.

"When things started to go wrong, I think I retreated into myself and expected people to get on with it, as I would do myself. By the middle of the tour I was pretty annoyed with some of the complaining. I felt that things were tough for everyone, not just particular individuals, and that they needed to stop feeling sorry for themselves.

"I tried not to let this show, but maybe people who didn’t know me too well found it hard to come to me for help and advice. As a result, I think a few of the guys thought I was less interested in them, less caring about their problems and issues than I actually was, and as the tour ended I couldn’t honestly say where I stood with a few of them.

"Looking back, I wish I had done more. Maybe I could have been more sympathetic and had more chats with the boys whose heads had gone down to see what I could do to help.

"If I had my tour again, I would certainly spend more time on man management, though, to be truthful, I was finding it hard enough concentrating on myself. We were into our 11th month of rugby and the strain was getting to us all."

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Johnson led by example as a hardened Lion

Johnson even went as far as to suggest that he may have been the wrong man for the job given the circumstances that unfolded on tour.

While he was the unanimous choice prior to departure, the now England team manager admitted that a more outgoing personality like Ireland hooker Keith Wood may have been better equipped to keep spirits on the rise in difficult circumstances.

"Would someone like Keith Wood have been able to lift the team in a way I couldn’t? Maybe," added Johnson.

"Woody is a good guy, always very positive, more of an obvious ‘people person’ than me.

"I am sure he would have been in the reckoning for the job…perhaps the fact that Woody was Irish would have helped with some of the other players, a few of whom were definitely a little anti-English in their attitudes. I honestly don’t know. "

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