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Martin Johnson Explains Why The President Had To Walk On The Grass

Martin Johnson Explains Why The President Had To Walk On The Grass
By Arthur James O'Dea

It was an incident that forced the IRFU to issue an apology to President Mary McAleese; not that she seemed overly bothered at the time.

Lansdowne Road, Six Nations finale, 2003, both Ireland and England going for the Grand Slam. Everything that this weekend's game in Twickenham was initially thought to be, before the game could even get underway, Martin Johnson and his England were accused of mind-games at best, an outrageous sign of disrespect at worst.

Leading his side to stand where the Irish team were due to be positioned for the President's walk and the national anthems, stubbornness by both sides saw Brian O'Driscoll and his teammates stand to the left of the English XV, irrespective of the red carpet.

Leaving President McAleese to walk across the Lansdowne Road pitch, it was an incident that much has been read into in hindsight.

According to the chief protagonist however, the whole thing was much ado about nothing:

So we went out and you chose to play that way. You attacked the end we walked up. So I just naturally went out on the right hand side because we'd warmed up that side.

Normally when you play at the stadium, there's a tunnel and there's a changing room on either side. Most stadia are like that.

The old Landsdowne was different. Both changing rooms were on this side.

In conversation with Off the Ball, the 2003 World Cup-winning captain revealed how close the whole incident came to never materialising in the first-place:

The thing that set it off was the guy that asked me to move was not the referee. If the referee had said to me, 'You're that side', we would have just moved because it wouldn't have been a big deal. It's not a big deal [to move].

At that point I will listen to my team, my people and the referee. That's it. So when this guy comes out and says, 'Move the fellas up there', I said, 'No, we're not going anywhere, just get on with the game' and the crowd went absolutely crazy.

Remembering "a pause" shortly thereafter that left Johnson wondering what would happen next, the captain recalled thinking "do they call the police? Do they move us? I don't know."

A show of defiance that was retrospectively seen to demonstrate this English side's demonstration to claim that Grand Slam, Johnson did have another unique memory from that day:

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As soon as we kicked off, the crowd sang 'Fields of Athenry', and I've only had the hairs stand up on the back of my neck once in my life, and that was it.

You can watch the event play out below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BdsTh2oP6o

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See Also: Breaking: World Rugby Drop Controversial Assistant Ref From England/Ireland

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