Johnson set to inspire England
March 19, 2011
ESPN Australia analyst Gordon Bray discusses England's chances of their first Grand Slam since 2003
England hooker Steve Thompson expects manager Martin Johnson to set the tone for Saturday's Six Nations showdown with Ireland in Dublin.
Johnson famously refused to concede his team's position on the Lansdowne Road red carpet in 2003 when he led England to Grand Slam glory. England had inadvertently lined up on Ireland's lucky side for the pre-match formalities - the anthems and the introductions to Irish president Mary McAleese but they would not be moved.
A dominant England side went on to produce one of the great Championship performances to beat Ireland 42-6 and Thompson - one of only two members of today's 22-man squad, along with Jonny Wilkinson, to have played in that 2003 game - expects Johnson to take a stand once again.
"Martin Johnson is exactly the same now as he was when he was playing," said the 32-year-old. "I was a young lad then and he was an experienced player. In those days he would say 'jump' and I'd say 'how high' and nothing has changed.
"He always had that authority about him. I don't think he even knows it at times. He just demands respect from everyone. He was like that as a captain and now as a coach. Before games we are starting to see the Martin Johnson that was there before.
"He is in the changing room getting wound up, having that chat before the game. I think he wishes he could still put his boots on. We used to tell stories about when he was captain and the young players are beginning to see that now.
"My favourite story is from that Ireland game. He told us that none of us were going to move and if we did he'd kill us. I just stood there and I daren't move. I wasn't too scared about them, I was too scared of him."
Johnson and the England team faced accusations of being disrespectful towards President McAleese, who ended up having to walk off the carpet and onto the grass. But that was only because the Ireland team refused to line up anywhere but to England's left.
"I'd like to put on the record that I never made President McAleese stand on the grass because we had the red carpet in front of us," Johnson told the Irish Examiner. "It was the Ireland boys. If they had stayed where they were, then she would have been on the red carpet.
"I wouldn't have thought anything about it (if the referee had asked us to move). But this guy came out of nowhere to move us and it felt like it was just some random guy and I just said: 'Don't tell us to do anything, pal'.
"And then, bang, it was just such a huge stand-off and I had that thought in my head: 'what have we got ourselves into now?'. It was never pre-planned, never intended. President McAleese walked onto the red carpet in front of us. Someone said afterwards it was their lucky side, but I'm not fussed with those things. You normally walk out the side that you warmed up on and that is what we did that day."
Johnson is set to be an inspirational figure once again at Lansdowne Road on Saturday as England chase their first Grand Slam since 2003.
"Because he has come from where he has come from, he almost speaks now as if he is still playing, as if he is the captain of the team," commented winger Chris Ashton. "You know what he is saying is what he would have said if he was captain.
"It is a whole new experience for me, and for most of the lads, to have that kind of bloke with his experience giving that kind of team-talk. It has a massive effect. When he talks, you listen.
"I am looking forward to him giving that team-talk before the game because I know everything he says will be true and he will mean every word of it. Having Johnno there is like having another captain."
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