Matches as captain: 44
Win percentage: 88.63%
No other man can top this list. Johnson was a colossus for England and the Lions. And yet, had Lawrence Dallaglio not fallen foul of the tabloid sting that ended his tenure as captain, Johnson may never have had the chance.
That seems fanciful now, given what he achieved as England and Lions skipper. The Leicester second row had already captained the British and Irish Lions to a 2-1 series victory over South Africa in 1997 before he got the job as England leader.
He led the Red Rose Brigade out for the first time in November the following year, an autumn series in which their only defeat came against Australia.
His early years as captain were flecked with under-achievements, first at Wembley in 1999 when England blew the Grand Slam, then a heavy defeat in the World Cup quarter-final that year. Further fluffed Slams in 2000 and 2001. Johnson, tellingly, was missing for the games that cost England those slams in Edinburgh and Dublin. They still won the championship on both occasions.
It all came right in 2003, a Grand Slam emphatically sealed at Lansdowne Road and a footnote to the game that underlined Johnson’s character. The England players lined up on what was traditionally Ireland’s side for the pre-match formalities. When asked to move, Johnson refused, forcing the hosts to string themselves out beyond the England players. It set the tone for a game England dominated like no other that year.
Later in 2003, Johnson was part of a six-man scrum that held the All Blacks out in Wellington as England recorded a famous win. They then took Australia to the cleaners in Melbourne and returned to beat them in the World Cup final in November.
Johnson had led a second Lions tour in 2001, overseeing a classic performance in the first Test only to see things fall apart in the next two, for the Wallabies to claim the series 2-1.
Johnson’s England came to epitomize the man: hard, uncompromising and doing everything it took to win.
He led by deed, not Churchillian speech, which may be why his ill-conceived reign as team manager in the late 2000s was unsuccessful. Johnson was visibly frustrated that players couldn’t or wouldn’t meet the standards he always set himself and his team during his playing days.
In what other tier one nation would an ex-captain with no previous coaching experience be given the top job?
The answer is none, but then, no other country had a captain like Martin Johnson.