Often referred to as a legend of the sport, Martin Johnson is the sporting hero of many a rugby union fan. Today, we’re looking back at some key moments from his sporting career.
Martin Johnson’s Early Rugby Union Career
Born in 1970, in Solihull, Martin Johnson was a promising player as a teenager. In 1987, he earned himself a place in the English Schools side and, the following year, he became part of Leicester Tigers’ youth squad. In 1989, he made his debut appearance for the Tigers’ first team and played for the England Colts.
According to the Telegraph, the England Colts’ performance in a tournament against Australia and New Zealand that year caught the eye of John Albert, the coach at the town rugby club in Tihoi, New Zealand. He wrote to the Rugby Football Union, asking if any of the Colts would like to play for his team.
Martin Johnson took advantage of the opportunity and the decision paid off for him. While playing for Tihoi, he was spotted by Colin Meads, the former All Blacks player and Chairman of the regional King Country team. He was invited to join the squad and was later selected for the New Zealand Colts. In 1990, after injuring his shoulder, however, he returned to England.
He quickly became a regular member of Leicester’s first team and was a key part of the squad that won the 1992/93 Pilkington Cup. He also made his debut for the national team in a match against France in 1993, standing in for Wade Dooley, who was injured. He went on to take Dooley’s place on the 1993 Lions tour of New Zealand.
In the 1994/95 season, Martin Johnson got another taste of club success when the Leicester Tigers claimed the league title. He was also a member of the national team that made it to the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup in 1995, and achieved the Five Nations Grand Slam in 1995 and 1996.
1997 – 2002: Captaincies, Controversies and Cup Wins
In 1997, not only did Johnson contribute to England’s third Five Nations Grand Slam in a row, he was selected to captain the British Lions during their tour of South Africa. He also became the Leicester Tigers’ permanent team captain and was awarded an OBE.
England secured second place in the Five Nations in 1998 and 1999, but Johnson hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the latter tournament, when he stamped on Scottish player John Leslie’s throat during the Calcutta Cup tie.
Things improved for Johnson later that year, when he took over the England captaincy after Lawrence Dallaglio was forced to resign. Johnson went on to lead the national team at the 1999 World Cup, where they reached the quarter-finals.
During the next few years, Johnson helped his club to win a number of rugby trophies. In 2001, the Tigers managed to achieve the treble, claiming the Zurich Premiership, Zurich Championship and the Heineken Cup awards in a single season. He also made history by leading the Lions on a second tour, the only player to have ever been captain twice.
2003 – From Six Nations Success to World Cup Glory
2003 was the finest year of Martin Johnson’s sporting career. Under his captaincy, England managed to add another Six Nations Grand Slam to their impressive list of achievements. They went on to defeat the All Blacks on New Zealand soil and the Wallabies in Australia.
They rounded off the year in style by winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup, beating the Aussies in front of their home crowd in the final, which was held at Sydney’s Telstra Stadium. The result ensured that Johnson went into the history books as the first man to captain England to World Cup victory. He received a CBE in the New Year’s Honours List.
2004 – 2011: Retirement and the Move to Management
In 2004, Johnson announced that he would be retiring from both club and international rugby at the end of the season. He played his last ever professional match in May of that year. In 2008, however, he took over as England’s manager, a role that he held until after the 2011 edition of the Rugby World Cup.
What do you think makes Martin Johnson a sporting hero? Is he one of your favourite rugby union stars? We’d love to know your opinion.