On This Day in 2005: Martin Johnson’s career finale ends in disappointment

·2 min read

On this day in 2005, the final match of Martin Johnson’s illustrious career ended in disappointment when Leicester were defeated 39-14 by arch-rivals Wasps in the Premiership final.

Twickenham was a fitting stage for possibly England’s finest ever player to strap on the armour for the final time, although three years later he was to return as manager of the national team he had served with such distinction on the pitch.

Even a great of Johnson’s stature was unable to write his own script as an incredible 500th career start ended in a emphatic defeat in front of a 66,000 crowd.

Martin Johnson walks out at Twickenham for his final match
Martin Johnson walks out at Twickenham for his final match (David Davis/PA)

“I’m very disappointed, not because it’s my last game but because we didn’t do it today. We haven’t played and it’s a nasty feeling,” England’s only World Cup-winning captain said.

And it was towering displays from England team-mates Joe Worsley, Josh Lewsey, Simon Shaw and Lawrence Dallaglio that spoilt his farewell as Wasps leapt into a 13-0 lead and retained mastery of the Tigers throughout.

Neil Back, Johnson’s erstwhile colleague for club and country, also experienced a miserable send-off on an afternoon when Leicester finished a distant second best.

Martin Johnson led England to World Cup glory in 2003
Martin Johnson led England to World Cup glory in 2003 (David Davies/PA)

And it was a poignant day for Warren Gatland, who masterminded a third successive Premiership crown before stepping down as Wasps director of rugby to take up a coaching role in New Zealand as the prelude to distinguished service with Wales and the Lions.

Dallaglio, another England colossus who was to play for a further three years, revealed that Wasps were determined to ruin Johnson’s last hurrah.

“When you turn on the radio and TV and keep hearing of Martin Johnson and
Neil Back – two of the greatest players the game has ever seen and they rightly
deserve the praise they get – it gets to you a bit,” Dallaglio said.