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Five Questions for Martin Johnson

That's Beijing: Since your retirement from the game, you've been heavily involved in a number of coaching camps for young players back in the UK. Is this a program that you'd like to develop on an international level?


Martin Johnson: It's a possibility in the long term. At the moment, though, we are only in our second year, and although they were great days last year and very successful, we want to concentrate at the moment on making them the very best that they can be before we go global.


tbj: Your arrival in Beijing with the Leicester Tigers comes soon after Eddie Jones' visit to the capital. Do you think this influx of the rugby community's senior figures is reflective of the game's increasing interest in China?


MJ: I think it is. Obviously both Eddie and my ex-teammate and companion on this trip Rory Underwood have links with the Asian region, but I think there is so much potential, both in China and Japan, that the rest of the rugby world, myself included, want to do what we can to encourage its growth.


tbj: The RFU's decision to award the 2011 Rugby World Cup to New Zealand rather than Japan caused a great deal of upset among the Asian rugby community. However, the decision has been made, and until an Asian country does get to host the World Cup, what more can be done to further the game in the continent?


MJ: I was a huge supporter of the Japanese bid; indeed I took part in their press launch and even held a leg of my testimonial year in Tokyo, which was very enjoyable. There was a great opportunity missed by the international rugby community by not taking the World Cup there. I know it would have been very successful and would have done so much for the game in the region. I would hope Japan stand a very good chance now to host the 2015 World Cup instead. In the meantime, the more visits of this nature we can encourage, from both individuals and teams, will help to raise the profile of the game, both locally and internationally.


tbj: While in Beijing you'll be visiting Nongda (Agricultural University), which currently has the best coaching program in China. In terms of coaching, at what level do you think particular attention needs to be paid to ensure China continues its rapid development in the game?


MJ: I was lucky enough to watch the Chinese national team recently in a World Cup qualifier in Dubai. I was surprised at the standard they have already achieved in their levels of strength and fitness, so they are well on their way. Quality coaching, though, is such an important element of the modern game, but it needs to be at all levels and start at an early age to have a real impact, so a strong infrastructure is crucial. This, in turn, inevitably benefits everyone right through to the national team.


tbj: Finally, England has the chance to be the holders of both the rugby and football World Cups by July – any World Cup winning advice for your football counterparts?


MJ: It is very easy in such a high profile tournament as a World Cup to be distracted and become involved in all the hype and media attention afforded to you during the competition, particularly in football. My advice to the England team would be to remember these are still football matches, like any other they may play, and to focus solely on them and the winning of them, and ignore anything else that may come your way. Do that and win the tournament, then you can get involved in the circus that follows.


Martin Johnson, Rory Underwood and Peter Wheeler will attend a charity dinner on June 20.


(That's Beijing June 5, 2006)

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