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Johnson expresses World Cup regrets

Martin Johnson reflects on his reign as England manager with a mixture of regret and defiance.

The scars inflicted by the fallout from the 2011 World Cup still linger when Johnson, conducting his first media interviews since stepping down, examines his three years in charge.

England's campaign in New Zealand was blighted by disciplinary issues that reached their nadir when some players engaged in a high-profile drunken night out in Queenstown.

On the field, they performed with limited ambition or adventure, grinding out narrow victories over Argentina and Scotland before exiting the competition against runners-up France.

Johnson, a Mastercard ambassador for the 2015 World Cup, insists the events in Queenstown have been distorted by misinformation and that his gravest error was his handling of the aftermath.

Asked if he was I hurt by the way it ended, Johnson told Press Association Sport: "The worst thing was the way the game got dragged through the mud.

"It wasn't actually a true reflection of those people and what we were about, but you're fighting a tidal wave almost at that point because everyone 'knows' what's happened because they've read about it.

"People start telling me what it was like when I was there.....that's the battle you have to win.

"That was my mistake, you have to win that battle as well. It's almost like a sales job.

"You see some organisations that are perceived a certain way publicly when actually they're not like that - good and bad because it goes both ways.

"In 2003 once you've won the World Cup, everything is portrayed as being great and a perfect working machine.

"But of course it wasn't - we were all human beings, we all made mistakes, had our frailties and did similar things that the boys did in 2011.

"It just didn't get to that level and didn't get recorded. And then you win, so everything is all right."

While Johnson clearly feels the strength of criticism received was undeserved, he knows many of the wounds were self-inflicted as England were aware of the pitfalls awaiting in New Zealand.

"We got caught out off the field. We were aware of what could happen and warned the players, but it still happened," Johnson said.

"The disappointing thing is that it's something we fell into even though we knew it was there.

"We warned the players about it and you think you've covered it off, when maybe you haven't covered it off. Maybe you have to say it every day.

"The difficult thing is that it gets perceived as something that it wasn't really.

"But if enough people say it is something, then everyone believes that is what it was. You're fighting a difficult battle.

"I'm not saying that things didn't happen, but I'm saying the perception is that that was the only thing that happened.

"That became the story rather than the rugby and that's what gets remembered."

Johnson defends a managerial record that spanned 38 Tests, numbering 21 wins, 16 defeats and one draw.

The 44-year-old former British and Irish Lions captain takes pride in masterminding England's only RBS 6 Nations title since 2003 and highlights the number of players he blooded who remain active in the Test arena.

"People go 'it was a disaster at the World Cup', but England have won one Championship in the last 11 years and that was in 2011," Johnson said.

"We won 10 out of 13 games that year and we did OK. Ultimately we brought through a lot of players who had a successful start to their career, although we were criticised for not doing that.

"Dan Cole, Alex Corbisiero, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Ben Youngs, Chris Ashton, Ben Foden and Manu Tuilagi all came through.

"In 2008-09 there was a lack of guys who were really putting their hands up to play Test rugby. We did start bringing some through and they played well.

"Looking back at it, of course I would have done things differently. We can all do that.

"You do what you think is right at the time, that's all you can do. We could all say we'd go back and change things."

:: Martin Johnson is a MasterCard Rugby World Cup 2015 ambassador. The Rugby World Cup 2015 ticket ballot is now open, use your MasterCard when buying tickets and you won't pay any surcharges and you'll be in with a chance of Priceless Surprises - www.tickets.rugbyworldcup.com

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