One of the greatest leaders English rugby has ever known, Martin Johnson was a giant for Leicester, England and the British Lions. Not happy with captaining England to World Cup glory in 2003, Johnson is now looking to repeat the feat as manager of the national side.
As a player he was one of the most feared opponents in the game – a giant lock forward who never backed down and inspired team-mates with his unquenchable thirst for victory. So often the vital ingredient in the scrum, Jonno was also imperious in the line-out and surprisingly deft and skillful in the loose, especially for such a big man.
The World Cup win in Australia was undoubtedly the high point of his career. Along with Johnny Wilkinson's winning drop-goal, Johnson bellowing as he triumphantly lifted the trophy was one of the enduring images of the tournament. Wilkinson rightly took the headlines for his virtuoso performance but the Leicester man's powerful leadership was crucial in England's glorious journey to the Telstra Stadium. Johnson's dogged approach characterised the whole team's attitude to the World Cup campaign. Winning was the be-all and end-all and the captain made sure his charges knew that winning ugly was still winning.
The journey to the top of his profession started a little unusually for Johnson. Spotted by former All Black, Colin Meades, Johnson spent his first years in rugby in New Zealand. Indeed he impressed so much that he was selected to tour Australia with the New Zealand under-21 side. Instead of pursuing his career in the southern hemisphere Johnson returned to England to start a career at Leicester Tigers which would last 16 years and bring him five Premiership wins and two Heineken Cup triumphs.
His performances for Leicester and England earned him the captaincy for his second British and Irish Lions tour in 1997. Wins in the first two tests won them the tour in South Africa and Johnson retained the captaincy in 2001 – the first player ever to do so. Sadly his third tour in 2001 ended as his first had done, in defeat. His glittering playing career ended on the international stage in 2004 and for Leicester a year later.
Always a student of the game in his playing days as well as being an intelligent and eloquent speaker off the field it was inevitable that Johnson would go into coaching. His chance came with Brian Ashton stepped aside in 2008. Johnson has already started to mould his new side and if he can kindle in them the kind of spirit and desire he had as a player then good times lie ahead for the England side.