IRB Hall of Fame
IRB Hall of Fame – Induction No.47 – Martin Osborne Johnson CBE (1970-) Leicester FC, King Country (New Zealand), Barbarians, England, British & Irish Lions
– Born: 9 March 1970 in Solihull, England.
– Family: The second son of David and Hilary Johnson, he has two brothers, Andrew, who is two years older, and William, four years his junior. Their father hailed from Orrell, a rugby union stronghold in the north of England where his grandfather briefly played for the local club. His father, a graduate in chemistry from Liverpool University, worked in the motor industry first for Lucas Industries then for Tungstone Batteries, while his mother, a PE teacher and a passionate athlete, ran marathons and represented Great Britain at ultra distance running (100km). His younger brother Will played number 8 for Leicester Tigers in more than 200 games and was also selected by England A. Martin married Kay Gredig, a New Zealander whom he met during his sojourn in the Land of the Long White Cloud, and they have a daughter Molly.
– Education: Blossomfield Infants School in Shirley, Solihull, followed by Ridgeway Primary, Welland Park High School, and Robert Smythe Upper School in Market Harborough, Leicestershire.
– Nickname: Johnno
– Other sports: His first sport at school was football and he played for both school and Harborough Town Juniors, where he was coached by his father. At 16 he also played American Football for Leicester Panthers for a few months.
He worked for Midland Bank (now HSBC) in Market Harborough, after which he became a professional rugby player with the Leicester Tigers. His international career came to an end after RWC 2003, but he continued to play for his club for two more years. When he eventually retired, he became a businessman and professional rugby coach. He is very active as a fundraiser for a number of charities, mostly related to cancer sufferers and children. He is a Patron of the Hope Against Cancer charity and the Matt Hampson Foundation (which inspires and supports young people seriously injured through sport), a Vice President of SPARKS (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids) and is an active fundraiser for many other charities.
Awards and records
– Captained England to victory at RWC 2003.
– The only player in history to have captained the British & Irish Lions on two separate tours.
– He was awarded an OBE in 1997 and a CBE in 2004.
– He was awarded an Honorary Degree “Doctor of Laws” by the University of Leicester in 2010.
– He started playing aged 11, as a number 8 at Welland Park School in Market Harborough, where he was coached by Andy Turner, Ian Anholm and Phil Spittle, the latter someone he described as the biggest influence.
– He captained Welland Park School in both rugby and football during a period which saw him start to follow Leicester FC alongside his father and brother Andrew.
– In his first year at Robert Smythe School he was selected for Leicestershire Under 14s.
– The following year he joined Wigston RFC, a junior club on the outskirts of Leicester, where he was coached by Graham Taylor and Rich Yeomans. This is when, as an Under 15, he went on first rugby tour to Wales.
– Wigston RFC won the Leicestershire County Championship for two years running at their age group and at 16 he was invited to play for Leicestershire Colts (Under 19s). This was followed by East Midlands XV and Midlands appearances, the latter against the North of England.
– The following year, in 1987 aged 17, he moved from number 8 to second row, a move with far reaching consequences for his subsequent career, as he was selected at second row for Midlands Counties and then England Under 18.
– On 7 April 1987, Johnson first wore the white shirt of England for the Under 18s match with Scotland, a match which ended in a 3-3 draw.
– His last Under 18 match was a year later against Wales at Redruth, which England won 19-4.
– In 1988 he joined Leicester, at the suggestion of a former Wigston teammate and played for their youth side the following season.
– He played for the Leicester Seconds and Thirds and appeared in a couple of first team matches against Bath and the RAF in the 1988/89 season.
– He was also selected by England Schools for their summer tour to Australia, where they defeated both New Zealand Schools (15-8) and Australian Schools (13-0).
– He was subsequently invited to play for Tihoi RFC, a junior club in King Country, New Zealand, by John Albert who had seen him play for England Schools against New Zealand Schools the year before.
– He was invited to two consecutive New Zealand Under 21 trials in Wellington. He did not get selected at the first trial, but in 1990 he made the squad, coached by John Hart, a future All Black coach.
– He played for New Zealand Under 21 against NZ Barbarians before flying over to Australia for a three-match tour, including an Under 21 international v Australia, which New Zealand won 24-21.
– After a season with Tihoi RFC he joined College Old Boys Marist in Taupo. With Johnson in the second row the club won the King Country Championship and the Country Challenge Cup.
– On his return to England he played a few matches for Leicester Thirds and Seconds before a first team appearance in a Cup game against Bath, which Leicester won.
– In the 1991/92 season, he became a Leicester regular and continued playing for the club until his retirement in 2005.
– Appointed Leicester captain at the beginning of the 1997/98 season, he carried on as skipper until his retirement.
– He was selected for Midlands and made his Midlands Division debut against London, in the Divisional Championship, though his career had been set-back by a recurrent shoulder injury. He played for Midlands against South Africa in 1992 and New Zealand in 1993, both time on the winning side.
– In 1992 he was selected for England B against both their French and Italian counterparts and played for the Barbarians against Swansea.
– He made his England debut v France in the Five Nations at Twickenham on 16 January 1993, coming in for the injured Wade Dooley in a match England won 16-15.
– A member of the England teams that won the Five Nations in 1995 (Grand Slam) and 1996 and the Six Nations in 2000, 2001 and 2003 (Grand Slam).
– His first match as England captain was against the Netherlands in the qualifying rounds for RWC 1999 at Huddersfield in 1998.
– He made his Lions debut v Taranaki in New Plymouth in 1993, a match won 49-25. He was not part of the original touring squad as he was flown in as a replacement for the injured Dooley.
– His Lions Test debut – against New Zealand – followed in Wellington, a match won 20-7.
– His last match for England was the 20-17 victory over Australia in the RWC 2003 Final in Sydney on 22 November.
– He retired from rugby at the end of the 2005 season, when he led a star-studded Martin Johnson XV against an equally impressive line-up captained by Jonah Lomu. The proceeds of the match, watched by a crowd in excess of 40,000, went to children’s and cancer charities.
– He made a brief return to action as part of the ‘Help the Heroes’ charity game at Twickenham, which helped raise over £1 million before he began his stint as England manager in 2008.
England appearances summary
Lions appearances summary
Tours & Competitions (as a player)
1993 England tour of Canada
1993 Five Nations
1994 England tour of South Africa
1994 Five Nations
1995 Rugby World Cup
1995 Five Nations
1996 Five Nations
1997 Five Nations
1998 Five Nations
1999 Rugby World Cup
1999 Five Nations
1999 England tour of Australia
2000 England tour of South Africa
2001 Six Nations
2002 Six Nations
2003 Six Nations
2003 England tour of New Zealand and Australia
2003 Rugby World Cup
Career records and highlights
– He played eight matches for England Under 18 across 1987 and 1988, winning three, losing draw and drawing two.
– Played a total of 25 NPC matches for King Country in New Zealand in 1989 and 1990.
– Made three appearances (two tour matches and one Under 21 international) for New Zealand Under 21 in Australia in 1990, winning all three.
– He appeared in 374 matches for Leicester Tigers over 17 seasons from 1988 to 2005.
– Captained Leicester for seven seasons between 1997 and 2004.
– Captained Leicester to four consecutive Premiership titles between 1999 and 2002, as well as back to back Heineken Cups in 2001 and 2002.
– Played for England Under 21 against Belgium (seniors) in September 1991, a match won 94-0.
– He made his debut for England B v France B in 1992, winning 22-18.
– Played seven matches for England A between February 1993 and March 2000, winning six and losing one, to Canada in Vancouver.
– Played most matches against France (13) than any other country in his career.
– His international career spanned 11 years and eight months between February 1992 and November 2003.
– His England record reads: 84 Tests, 67 wins, 15 defeats and two draws for a success rate of nearly 80 per cent. He also scored two Test tries.
– He captained his country 39 times, losing on just five occasions – a remarkable winning ratio of 87 per cent. Only Will Carling has captained England on more occasions than Johnson (59 with a winning ratio of 75 per cent).
– At the time of his induction he was the most capped England second row of all-time and the third most capped second row in the world.
– Johnson was in the starting line-up for 82 of his 84 Tests, all of them in the second row.
– He also played 16 times for the British & Irish Lions, winning 10 of them. In terms of Tests, he played eight for the Lions with a 50 per cent win ratio.
– As a player he played in three Rugby World Cups (1995, 1999 and 2003), winning 14 and losing four matches.
– He was appointed England manager in April 2008 and stood down only three weeks after his induction into the IRB Hall of Fame following a disappointing RWC 2011 campaign.
– First match in charge of England was a 39-13 win against the Pacific Islanders in November 2008.
– During his time as manager, England played 38 Tests, winning 21, losing 16 and drawing one for a winning ratio of 55 per cent.
– His RWC record as manager was four wins and one loss at New Zealand 2011.
– His last match in charge of England was a 19-12 defeat by France in the RWC 2011 quarter finals.
– The sides he faced most as manager were Wales and Australia (five times each)
– The biggest winning margin in his reign as manager was 67-3 v Romania at RWC 2011 and the biggest losing margin 42-6 v South Africa in 2008.
– With Johnson as manager, England won the 2010 Six Nations.
What he said
“My career has contained lots of highs and lows. I’ve been fortunate enough to lead successful Lions, England and Leicester sides to play on the highest stage and enjoy the rewards that offers. But fantastic as some of those public moments have been, the memories you hope always to keep are the hidden ones you share with your teammates.”
“How much I learnt in New Zealand? A huge amount! The whole experience broadened me as a person and helped me grow up. I had barely left school and suddenly I was living as an independent adult on the other side of the world. It was in terms of my rugby education, though, that the real changes came.”
“In recent times, professionalism has enabled English players to work on their fitness and strength to the point where we can compete and even, say some, overtake our southern hemisphere colleagues. Back in the early nineties, however, Leicester Tigers matches were really no rougher and tougher than low grade club rugby with Tihoi.”
“If I was ever going to make it as a full international, I wanted it to be in white not black.”
“In many ways, professionalism has been a tremendous thing for the English game. In a few short years we have created a competitive league system that has produced clubs that can beat the best in Europe.”
“At half time, my talk tends to be technical. I will speak about how the opposition is playing and whether our defence needs to do this on their scrum or maybe that on their lineout. You don’t want to be blinding people with science, though. People who talk rugby tactics are talking to make themselves sound clever. It’s actually a simple game. It’s about winning the battle of the work-rate, winning the collisions, keeping the ball and going forward with it. If you have the go-forward, if you are hungrier and keener and are outhustling them, it’s an easy game.”
“I can’t remember what I was thinking as I picked it up (the Webb Ellis Cup); pride in the boys, pride in my country, relief that we’d finally done it. Most of all I wished my mum had been there to see it; she would have loved it.”
What they said
Phil Larder (former Leicester & England defence coach): “… I coached Leicester's defence for four seasons and I used to sit up in the stands with John Wells, watching the first half, while Dean Richards watched from the bench. Just before half-time we'd put our heads together to decide what to tell the players during the interval. Deano would always ask Johnno his opinion. And despite having had his head down in the scrum or in a ruck for 40 minutes, he would always be more astute than we were in picking out the relevant points.”
Simon Briggs (journalist, The Telegraph online): “The team that Clive Woodward managed and Johnson captained was unquestionably the greatest that this country has ever produced. And Johnson’s tactical input was every bit as important as Woodward’s.”
Early Day Motion presented in the House of Commons: “… this House … congratulates him on his outstanding contribution to Leicester Tigers, England and the British Lions over the last 15 years, culminating in England’s World Cup victory in Sydney in November 2003, after success at club, international and Lions level; praises him for the respect in which he is held throughout the world of sport; and wishes him every success in his retirement.”
Sir Clive Woodward: “The most complete professional to ever grace Rugby Union.”
Dr. SJ Gurman, University of Leicester (oration at the ceremony): “Martin Johnson is generally considered to be one of the finest lock forwards ever to have played rugby. He toured three times with the British and Irish Lions and is the only man ever to have captained them on two separate tours. He was also, of course, the England captain when they won the World Cup in 2003 … Mr Chancellor, on the recommendation of the Senate and the Council, I present Martin Johnson, that you may confer on him the Honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.”
Scott Gibbs (Wales and the Lions): “The ultimate for a player is to be respected by your peers ... He was England’s key player in the World Cup. Jonny Wilkinson got all the plaudits but Johnson was the one who kept them going after some uncertain starts. He has been at the top for 11 years now and his body must be battered. What impressed me about him was the way he adapted to the modern game while never forgetting where he came from. He is one of those players who do not come around very often.”
Paul Rees (journalist, The Guardian): “Martin Johnson is the leading player of his generation who will take his place among the all-time greats of the game when he makes his expected announcement on Saturday to retire from international rugby after 84 England caps and three Lions tours.”
Mike Ford (England defence coach under Johnson): “He was fantastic. From my point of view he insulated me from off-field matters; he created an environment so you can think about your rugby and coaching 24/7. The support he’s shown the players as well was tremendous. Did we get a few things wrong? Of course we did, we’re not stupid enough to say we got everything right. But he’s got plenty of integrity and is a very loyal guy and he can challenge you as a coach, so for me and the players that’s why we’re all coming about and supporting him because he was very loyal to us all.”
- 7 March - England v Wales: Rugby World Cup memories and dreams
- 07 March - Andy Robinson looks ahead to the penultimate round of the Six Nations
- Listen to this week's Total Rugby show
- 03 March - Alain Rolland looks back over his distinguished refereeing career
- 28 February - Andy Robinson looks back on round 3 of the Six Nations