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England manager Johnson quits after woeful WCup

Updated: November 16, 2011, 13:57


Martin Johnson coach of the England rugby team announces his resignation at a press conference at Twickenham Stadium in Middlesex,  England Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

LONDON(AP) Martin Johnson resigned as England manager on Wednesday, unwilling to recommit to the team in the wake of a shambolic Rugby World Cup campaign overshadowed by indiscretions on and off the pitch.

"It's in the best interests of myself and the England team that I don't carry on into next year,'' Johnson said at a news conference at Twickenham. Appointed without any coaching experience in 2008, he didn't want to renew his contract which expires in December.

A series of lurid headlines followed England around New Zealand before a limp quarterfinal exit against France in October.

"I've tried to take emotion out of a lot of (the decision) and the disappointment,'' Johnson said. "The off-the-field things during the World Cup didn't help. They portray the team in a bad light, and not an accurate light.

"This is my call, and if I hadn't made it someone might have made it for me.''

Johnson was referring to two reviews by the Rugby Football Union into the World Cup campaign, which included his debrief last week with his assistants. The first findings are to be revealed on Thursday, and they aren't expected to be kind to Johnson. He didn't act decisively on the indiscretions in New Zealand even though he said he would before the tournament.

On Wednesday he said he didn't feel let down by the players in New Zealand and believed the off-field issues didn't affect their game preparations. He did everything on his terms, he said, and had no interference from the RFU throughout his tenure and at the World Cup.

He said he'd considered his options before the World Cup, so this was "not a knee-jerk decision, but a considerate, thoughtful decision.''

Still, he took more than five weeks to make up his mind, leaving RFU elite rugby director Rob Andrew little time to find a replacement who will have to pick an elite squad in the first week of January for the Six Nations starting in February. Leading contenders are Northampton's Jim Mallinder and former South Africa and Italy coach Nick Mallett.

Andrew admitted he was also accountable for England's World Cup debacle but said he wasn't resigning.

Johnson, he added, "did a terrific job in pretty difficult circumstances.'' Andrew said Johnson rebuilt almost the entire team into Six Nations champions. Johnson added he was excited for the team's future, and they would be better off for what they went through at the World Cup.

"Part of me regrets leaving the job in these circumstances,'' he said. "There is unfinished business and a feeling to put things right. But I won't leave with any regrets.''

The 6-foot-8 (2.03 meter) Johnson made 84 appearances for England, 39 of them as captain, before replacing Brian Ashton, who led England to the 2007 World Cup final.

"Johnno didn't have the CV to do the job but the RFU backed him and he backed himself and unfortunately and regrettably he came up short,'' Johnson's former England teammate Jeremy Guscott told the BBC.

Johnson had hoped a relaxed regime for his squad would help them emulate his 2003 World Cup triumph, but it spectacularly backfired.

Johnson's team lost 19-12 to the French in the quarterfinals after struggling to narrow pool victories over Argentina and Scotland.

Mike Tindall, Chris Ashton, James Haskell and Manu Tuilagi were all disciplined for incidents that undermined Johnson's leadership.

The first major incident to be exposed came early in the tournament when captain Tindall was captured on security footage holding a woman's hand and receiving a kiss on top of his head at a Queenstown bar. That made front-page news because the 2003 World Cup-winning center had just married Zara Phillips, Queen Elizabeth II's granddaughter. He has since been dropped from the national squad and fined 25,000 pounds ($40,000).

Three players were also reprimanded for making sexist comments to a Dunedin hotel worker on the trip that culminated in Tuilagi being detained by police after jumping off a ferry into Auckland harbor the day after the France loss.

England also narrowly avoided being punished by World Cup organizers when the RFU voluntarily stood down two assistant coaches amid a ball-switching scandal in the 67-3 win against Romania.

The highlight of Johnson's 38-test tenure as manager came earlier this year with England's first Six Nations title since 2003.

His overall record since he took control for the 2008 autumn internationals was 21 victories, 16 defeats and one draw.

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