Mission accomplished, but Johno's a giant loss

Inside Rugby Union Dave Craven Just hours after that World Cup final success, many of the triumphant England players made an unexpected visit to the Telstra Stadium's press room.

Suited and booted, certainly battered and bruised, they mingled with hacks from across the globe, regaling their thoughts about the game in a relaxed atmosphere while enjoying a beer and even some oriental chicken and vegetable samosas. They'd won the World Cup, after all - they could finally allow themselves some of the finer things in life.

Following the initial scrap to get a choice quote from the likes of Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Matt Dawson, journalists and players continued to mill around together for about 30 minutes or so.

Stood in a corner, alone, peering up - well, it was almost eye-level for him - at a television screen, the England captain watched replays of that momentous encounter.

The sweat was still easing out on to his forehead from the very same match and the bruises were just beginning to make their mark. I sneaked up and asked Johnson: "Is it as nerve-wracking watching now as it was when you were out there playing?"

Intimidating

As soon as I uttered the words I realised the error of my ways.

"There was never any nerves then, never mind now," came the gruff response. Of course there wasn't. Johnson, after all, is a fearless competitor. He lives up to all those images a captain should create - powerful, dominant, intimidating, scary even. What had he to worry about? Stepping out in a World Cup final in front of 80,000 fans and with millions watching on televisions across the globe was the reason he played the game. It would be the pinnacle of his career. There was no way he'd be affected by something as pathetically human and minuscule as nerves.

The final itself might have had the whole stadium on the edge of their seats and fans back home were left equally engrossed by the ensuing extra time drama but Johnson set about his task in the way he always did. With minimum fuss but maximum impact.

Typically, when it mattered most, he produced his best performance in an England jersey and led in the style which his team-mates had grown accustomed to - committed, brave, no-nonsense, inspirational.

It must have been easy for the likes of Wilkinson, Dallaglio and Dawson - all leaders in their own right - to follow such a figure.

The Wallabies felt the full force of Johnson on that glorious night in Sydney, both mentally and physically.

The image of the Leicester lock holding aloft the Webb Ellis Trophy is etched now into our memories for a lifetime and it was fitting that that game should be his last in an England shirt.

The country lost just five times under his captaincy and he took charge on 39 occasions, winning 84 caps in total. He still found time to scowl in the immediate aftermath of that World Cup win - it was a stupid question on my part - so you can imagine the pain those few losses must have caused.

Undoubtedly, though, as opposed to so many English sporting 'greats' who have retired as men who so nearly conquered the world, Johnson did manage to go all the way - and that is how he will be remembered.

The try Johnson scored for the Tigers against Ulster, shortly before making his announcement, was only his 16th in more than 300 games for the club, but statistics don't illustrate anything about Johnson's career.

When I left him in that press room he continued watching the replays. I think he was probably picking up on a move that went wrong or a maul he didn't quite control just right. Room for improvement. The next England captain has a big job on his hands.

Jamie still having hill nightmares

It was good to catch up with former Leeds Tykes favourite Jamie Mayer north of the border. The centre returned home to Scotland in late 2002 after injury cut short his career at Headingley.

He spent a season at Watsonians but retired last year when a hamstring problem finally got the better of him.

However, Mayer was spotted keenly spectating in the Edinburgh crowd at Meadowbank recently, watching Leeds tackle another of his former clubs in Heineken Cup action.

He didn't tell Inside RU which team he was supporting but the ex-international did offer one revelation.

"I'm not missing playing the game at all," said Mayer, who has been working as an investment management consultant in Scotland's capital city for the last eight months. "I'm sure I will eventually, but not just yet although I do know I'll DEFINITELY never miss Scrapper's hill running in Leeds. That's something about professional rugby I can live without!"

Tykes' legendary fitness trainer Steve Carter can now add another victim to his list of players left mentally scarred from years of toil amid the peaks of Roundhay.

'Gate men shake-off their own cash crisis

IF Leeds United think they have troubles, spare a thought for Harrogate rugby club.

Ahead of the game at Newbury on Saturday, players were told their contracts would be terminated in two months time due to rising financial worries. In fact, all employees were dropped the same bombshell.

No wage deferrals here but the plain, old axe. Pretty ruthless.

All's not as bad as it seems though. Thankfully, for the club anyway, Harrogate's players aren't mercenaries out for everything they can get.

The squad has opted to carry on playing until the end of the season even when their wages are stopped come March.

The players receive very little payment for their services, all are part-time operators and most have a strong affinity with the club, many having played at Claro Road for years.

They are good friends off the park as well as team-mates on it so it didn't take much to come to the swift decision.

Character

That is a real show of both strength and character especially considering their subsequent loss at Newbury was their fifth on the trot; it would be so easy to jump the sinking ship.

But the players, and coaching staff, have proved they are no quitters. In fact, Inside RU understands they have agreed to an extra training session per week in an effort to get their form back on track, despite the impending loss of income.

The club insists the action has been taken to alleviate short-term cash-flow problems and that they will to continue to pay players next season. Harrogate are also confident they may still find some money in the interim and avert the need to cancel the contracts in two months time.

The players hope that will be the case and they are also willing to renegotiate if needed.

But in the meantime it's business as usual: Inside RU has been reliably informed that the camaraderie is as strong as ever - they enjoyed a good drinking session in Rotherham on the way home at the weekend, despite the defeat, with team manager Graham Siswick leading the singing, and a couple of players even getting naked, completing the customary traditions.

No change there, then.

Well done lads, and good luck with the rest of the season. You've set a fine example and reminded people what sport is all about.

I wonder if Leeds United's stars will show as m