England v Georgia, Rugby World Cup, September 18
Johnson defiant over player conduct
September 16, 2011
England coach Martin Johnson talks to the media following his side's return to Dunedin © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson has no plans to crack down on his squad in the wake of a headline-grabbing night out during their recent stay Queenstown.
Johnson gave his squad time off to enjoy themselves and "relieve the pressure" of the World Cup last Sunday night after Mike Tindall had captained England to a 13-9 victory over Argentina. Some of the squad were later pictured at a local bar and Tindall was subsequently embroiled in a tabloid newspaper story.
Johnson stated before the team left for New Zealand that he would not be imposing drinking bans on the squad, and stuck by that decision today when addressing the media following his squad's return to Dunedin. "You have got to relieve the pressure and let off steam at the right time. It was a good idea," Johnson said.
"In the pressure of the World Cup you have got to find the opportunity to do things like that, enjoy yourself and let off a bit of steam. I had no problem with them doing that. We all know when you have a rugby team that part of it is the bonding off the field.
"I don't (feel my trust has been betrayed). We knew they were going out to have a few beers. It has been a great World Cup. On the streets of Dunedin and in Queenstown, you have players out and about and engaging with the public.
"I don't want to get away from that. I don't want to have to lock people away and not let them out - or if we do it's in VIP areas. I would rather we are out and about in the general public. I don't want to get to a stage where we are locking ourselves away in hotels on this trip."
Johnson confirmed there would be no disciplinary action arising from the night out. "If there is a complaint and someone says one of your players has acted inappropriately then we will act on it, but the manager of the bar says the England players' behaviour was perfectly acceptable all through the evening," Johnson added.
"There is no implication from anyone there that we have heard that there has been any bad behaviour. It was guys out having a few drinks, as other teams have done in the same town during the World Cup. There is no difference it is just the way it has been reported. Rugby player drinks beer, shocker."
Johnson revealed that the players held a meeting to discuss the situation and are "fully aware of their responsibilities" in the modern world of camera phones. "That is the world we live in at the moment. I had 50 photographs myself in Queenstown yesterday," Johnson said.
"Maybe you underestimate what it is like in this country. Other teams had done the same thing in the same town. If we get away from having that in the Rugby World Cup then I don't think that is for the best.
"We have been out and about in Queenstown. We went out for dinner last night. If we get to the point you can't go out because someone is going to film you and point the finger at you, it is a pretty sad place."
Johnson believes the situation will make his players more determined as they head into Sunday's game against Georgia and the rest of the tournament. "I think it brings players together this sort of thing. They rally round team-mates," said Johnson, who added that England's fixture schedule means they are unlikely to go out on the town again.
"They worked very hard last week, produced a tough win under a lot of pressure and it is probably the last opportunity they will get to do anything like that on this trip, I think. The games come thick and fast from now on."
Chris Ashton, who was one of the players to attend the bar in Queenstown, conceded the players may have been naive to end up in the backpackers' bar and the squad have held a meeting to address that, led by England's senior players. But the Northampton wing said: "We weren't doing anything out of the ordinary. There were dwarves there, yes, but that was just the night the bar was having. It was nothing to do with us. We didn't bring them with us or anything like that.
"We just ended up in there. I don't think anything had been organised or anything like that. It was just a bar that we ended up in. It's just lads enjoying a night out. We just don't see anything in it and we're concentrating on this weekend."
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