Johnson blow as critic Cotton to lead review

UNDER-FIRE Martin Johnson’s hopes of retaining his position as England manager suffered a major setback yesterday when one of his harshest critics, Fran Cotton, agreed to chair an independent review of the entire England structure at the Rugby Football Union.

Cotton’s team, which will comprise a two or three-man panel, will be charged with reviewing the performance of the RFU’s professional rugby department and assessing rugby operations director Rob Andrew’s own report into England’s dismal World Cup campaign.

Johnson’s (right) current contract expires in December and if he is to continue until England host the World Cup in 2015, he may have to accept working in a new-look structure, assuming he is offered a new deal.

Such a prospect can hardly be considered a certainty following England’s dismal displays in New Zealand, which Cotton yesterday depicted as a damning indictment of Johnson’s tenure.

He said: “We were knocked out in the quarter-finals and we played poorly throughout the competition. It is a failure as far as we are concerned.

“Martin has now been in charge three-and-a-half years and it is very difficult to understand what style of play this England rugby team is all about.

“The basic skills of rugby at that level just aren’t good enough and I haven't seen an improvement in the last three-and-a-half years.

“The players have got to take a huge responsibility. When they go on the pitch they are in charge of their own game and it was very obvious in this World Cup that there seems to be a lack of leadership.”

While England were largely found wanting on the field in New Zealand, their antics off it hardly painted them in a favourable light.

And Cotton, a former international prop forward, also took a dim view of the controversy Mike Tindall found himself embroiled in following a night out in Queenstown.

“Unfortunately Mike Tindall’s incident – forget the incident with the lady in the bar – what concerned me is that one of the leading players was out at two in the morning and obviously hammered.

“That is not part of a professional athlete’s lifestyle and what example does that set to the younger players in the squad.”