John­son Laid low by peo­ple he trusted Tin­dall His be­hav­iour was ap­palling

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There was a point where I nearly didn’t go to the 2011 World Cup at all. My new job as the Rugby Foot­ball Union’s pro­fes­sional rugby di­rec­tor still hadn’t been signed off and, as my ex­ist­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties did not cover the Eng­land team, I was tempted to stick two fin­gers up to the union and watch the World Cup from the safety of my lounge on the ba­sis that if things went pear-shaped, I would be well out of it.

As news was al­ready be­gin­ning to emerge about cer­tain Eng­land play­ers wind­ing down from the nar­row vic­tory over Ar­gentina in the open­ing game by go­ing “on the lash” in Queen­stown – and mak­ing com­plete fools of them­selves in a late-night bar – there did not ap­pear to be much of an “if ” about it. All the same, I lis­tened to my bet­ter an­gel and made the trip to New Zealand.

By the time I ar­rived, the team were back in Dunedin ahead of the pool fix­ture with Ge­or­gia. The first thing I saw on en­ter­ing the ho­tel was Mar­tin John­son and Tom Stokes, the team op­er­a­tions man­ager, in earnest con­ver­sa­tion in a cor­ner of the lobby.

It was one of those “Oh Christ, what’s gone wrong?” mo­ments: a sixth sense told me that this was not good. “We have a prob­lem,” Tom said as I ap­proached, drag­ging my bags be­hind me.

“Go on.”

“There’s a story about to break about a ho­tel maid claim­ing she’s been trapped in a room and ha­rassed by some of our play­ers.”

I think I knew there and then that this would be the World Cup from hell, that I would spend the next month of my life fire­fight­ing for all I was worth.

On re­flec­tion, this should not have come as any great sur­prise. There had been an un­der­cur­rent of trou­ble even be­fore the party left Eng­land and, not for the first time in the re­cent his­tory of the na­tional team, it con­cerned money.

The play­ers in­formed the union that they were dis­sat­is­fied with the fi­nan­cial ar­range­ments in place for the World Cup.

I con­sid­ered this to be out­ra­geous be­hav­iour on their part, not be­cause I was against play­ers push­ing for im­proved terms and con­di­tions – heaven knows, I’d done the same my­self on more than one oc­ca­sion – but be­cause the fig­ures had been agreed as part of a four-year deal be­tween the RFU, the play­ers’ union and the mem­bers of the squad. It was all there in the con­tract, in black and white: match pay­ments, bonuses, you name it.

I’d been in­volved in the orig­i­nal ne­go­ti­a­tions, as had the play­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion boss Damian Ho­p­ley, and as far as I was con­cerned, it was bind­ing. The play­ers saw things dif­fer­ently and they tried to hold the union to ran­som. When we held a World Cup de­par­ture din­ner at Twick­en­ham, they more or less re­fused to get off the team bus. It was to­tally un­nec­es­sary, ut­terly ir­re­spon­si­ble and en­tirely with­out foun­da­tion.

Johnno was fu­ri­ous. Some of the se­nior fig­ures in the Eng­land party had been led by Mar­tin, had played along­side him in some of the great­est vic­to­ries in the coun­try’s rugby his­tory, yet they were pre­pared to let him down. He de­served their re­spect and re­ceived the op­po­site. How some of them can look him in the eye to­day, I have no idea.

The fall­out from the Queen­stown in­ci­dent was toxic in the ex­treme, largely be­cause Mike Tin­dall was one of the prin­ci­pal pro­tag­o­nists. Mike was a se­nior player, a World Cup win­ner and team leader.

What was more, he had just mar­ried Zara Phillips, the Queen’s grand­daugh­ter, and was there­fore an ob­vi­ous tar­get for chancers with cam­era phones seek­ing to make easy money from the tabloid press.

Af­ter the tour­na­ment, he was dropped from the Eng­land set-up and heav­ily fined for a breach of the Elite Player Squad code of con­duct.

Mike was not best pleased with this out­come and ac­cused the union of scape­goat­ing him, but in truth, his be­hav­iour had not been within driv­ing dis­tance of ac­cept­able. The whole tenor of the cam­paign was shock­ingly bad and, deep down, I think it re­ally hurt Mar­tin. I spent plenty of time meet­ing play­ers and agents and le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives; I had more overnight dis­cus­sions with the RFU le­gal de­part­ment back home than I care to re­mem­ber.

But it was far worse for Johnno, who saw it as his job to front up in pub­lic and was re­luc­tant to let any­one else share the load. He seemed to be on his knees by the time we were knocked out of the tour­na­ment: a gi­ant of a bloke, laid low by peo­ple he thought he could trust.

The pe­cu­liar thing was that a route to the fi­nal had opened up for us, just as it had in 2007. France in the last eight? Wales or Ire­land in the last four? Here was a chance to pull some­thing from the flames. But while French blood had been frozen in the veins be­fore kick-off in our pre­vi­ous two World Cup knockout meet­ings, it ran hot on quar­ter-fi­nal night in Auck­land. We could not hold them in the first half, dur­ing which they built up a 16-point lead, and while we scored a cou­ple of tries af­ter the in­ter­val, there would be no way back. Dis­ap­point­ing? Of course. Was I sorry it was over? Prob­a­bly not.

Be­tween our de­par­ture from the tour­na­ment and our de­par­ture from the coun­try, there seemed no ob­vi­ous win­dow dur­ing which any of the play­ers could present us with an­other buck­et­load of grief. Yet Manu Tuilagi, the Le­ices­ter cen­tre, found one and promptly threw it open.

Af­ter de­feat by the French on the Satur­day night, the man­age­ment de­cided to have one fi­nal din­ner to­gether early on the Sun­day evening, and duly gath­ered at a res­tau­rant in the city’s har­bour area.

The events are etched upon my mind. I’m sit­ting op­po­site Johnno, who has Tom Stokes sit­ting next to him. Af­ter a cou­ple of beers and a mouth­ful of food, Tom’s phone starts ring­ing.

“Yes, it’s Tom speak­ing … slow down … what’s hap­pened? The po­lice have … what? He’s jumped into where? And he’s been ar­rested? Where is he now? Right, let me just have a chat with Johnno.”

Look­ing di­rectly across at our thor­oughly be­lea­guered man­ager, I can see Johnno’s face has turned the colour of a bot­tle of milk. “That was Floody,” says Tom, re­fer­ring to Toby Flood, whose form in the Eng­land mid­field had been one of the few sav­ing graces of the trip. “Um … Manu has … um … been fished out of Auck­land Har­bour. It seems he jumped off a ferry in­tend­ing to swim into shore and he’s been nicked. Ev­ery­one’s all right, but we need to get a QC to sort him out.”

I’m flab­ber­gasted, well and truly. I sim­ply can­not process the “what, how, why, where, when” as­pects of this story, although it soon tran­spired that the play­ers had sailed across the bay to Wai­heke Is­land to en­joy a few drinks – why not end the trip as they had started it? – and events had un­folded from there. Manu had stated his in­ten­tion to hop over the side on the way out, on the grounds that this was a tra­di­tional form of dis­em­barka­tion in his na­tive Samoa. It was not the bright­est of ideas, given that he was on a bloody great ferry rather than a small fish­ing boat, and one or two play­ers talked him out of it. On the way back, how­ever, there was no stop­ping him. It was a case of, “You’re not do­ing it, Manu … Jeez, where’s he gone?”

It was the fi­nal ig­nominy.

I felt in­cred­i­bly sorry for Mar­tin, who could have ruled with an iron fist but chose not to be­cause of the deep level of trust he had in the play­ers.

How could he have pre­dicted that they would let him down so badly, be­tray him so com­pletely?

On his re­turn to Eng­land, he spent a fair amount of time think­ing through his op­tions.

By mid-novem­ber, we said to him: “Which way do you want to play it, Johnno? Do you want to make a call your­self, or would you pre­fer to knock it back into our court?” In the end, it was his choice to walk away.

If I felt a sad­ness about Mar­tin John­son’s de­par­ture, I felt very dif­fer­ently about that of Mar­tyn Thomas, the RFU chair­man. All I felt – and still feel – in his re­gard is anger. I felt he was woe­fully in­ad­e­quate. We had our prob­lems and dis­agree­ments as in­di­vid­u­als, many of them pro­found, but my crit­i­cism goes way beyond the con­fines of a mere per­son­al­ity clash: it has far more to do with gov­er­nance and stan­dards and be­hav­iour. Un­der his lead­er­ship, Twick­en­ham was re­duced to dust. We had be­come a laugh­ing stock.

It was time to get se­ri­ous.

Be­lea­guered: Rob An­drew felt sorry for Eng­land man­ager Mar­tin John­son (top) whose de­ci­sion to place trust in his play­ers blew up in his face

Bad role model: Mike Tin­dall was one of the se­nior fig­ures in the team whose an­tics in Queen­stown (be­low) drew head­lines at the start of the tour­na­ment

In hot wa­ter: Manu Tuilagi was ar­rested af­ter jump­ing from a ferry

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