Johnson made to wait as Ashton future unclear

VICTORIOUS World Cup captain Martin Johnson remains a firm favourite to fill the role of England team manager following a Rugby Football Union meeting yesterday.

But head coach Brian Ashton still faces an uncertain future, despite leading England to second place in the 2007 World Cup and this season’s RBS 6 Nations Championship.

Johnson, skipper during England’s triumphant 2003 World Cup campaign, is a strong bet to land the lucrative managerial position, which should be worth a sizeable six-figure sum.

He has not yet been unveiled as the new man, although further discussions are now likely between Johnson and his former England team-mate, RFU elite rugby director Rob Andrew.

A decision is expected next month, but where it all leaves Ashton is anyone’s guess.

And to possibly compound Ashton’s situation further, talks will also continue to recruit an additional specialist coach — possibly a backs adviser such as Mike Catt or Austin Healey — which is Ashton’s area of expertise.

Ashton has always wanted a managerial appointment, but one on the administrative side that would not become involved in matters such as selection and appointing coaches.

Former Bath and England captain Phil de Glanville is believed to be Ashton’s preferred choice.

It is impossible to envisage Johnson playing anything other than a hands-on role, although an exact job description details have still to be thrashed out.

The RFU management board released a statement after Andrew presented them with his Six Nations findings at Twickenham yesterday.

It read: “The management board accepted Rob Andrew’s interim report, and was unanimous in authorising him to continue the discussions currently under way to strengthen the England team structure through the recruitment of a team manager and an additional specialist coach.

“Recommendations on these appointments will be made to a Club England meeting in early April, who will then make final recommendations to the RFU management board, which will convene, as necessary, an additional meeting ahead of its scheduled meeting on April 30 to consider these recommendations.”

Andrew’s latest report came only three months after he completed his detailed assessment of the 2007 World Cup performances and recommended Ashton, plus his coaching lieutenants John Wells and Mike Ford, continue in their posts.

But the giant figure of Johnson has been lurking for some time, and he met with Andrew last week to discuss a possible managerial role.

While Andrew could recommend Ashton continues as head coach, Ashton is likely to find it impossible working as part of a structure that also includes Johnson.

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