- Tom Johnson on the “bittersweet” moment he took the call from Graham Rowntree
- Exeter Chiefs flanker set to continue steady progression into international rugby
Tom Johnson is overjoyed to continue his upward trajectory with a place in the England touring party to South Africa this summer but he admits the moment he got the call from Graham Rowntree was bittersweet.
The Exeter Chiefs flanker was out with a friend to get a suit fitted to be best man at wedding in June but now instead of preparing for a nerve-racking speech the 29-year-old is training with the Springboks in mind.
In his first interview with RFUtv, he said: “I had to tell him ‘I’m sorry, I can’t be your best man anymore’, and it was bittersweet but he was over the moon for me and, obviously, I’m over the moon too. Luckily someone else has got to do the speech.”
Johnson has taken an unconventional route to the England set-up, having played no age-grade representative rugby and worked his way through the leagues with Chinnor, Reading, Coventry and finally the Chiefs.
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In moving progressively through the levels, Johnson’s attitude has always to give his maximum to every club he’s been at and then move up to an appropriate next stage and says his grassroots experience makes his really appreciate the chance with England.
“I’m sure no one who pulls on an England shirt takes it for granted but mine has definitely been a different route than most people,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve enjoyed and I haven’t set a goal of this is where I’ve got to get to. Every club I’ve been to has helped improve my rugby and I’ve felt comfortable there and wanted to play at a higher level.
“I went from Reading to Coventry and then to Exeter and then we went from Championship to Premiership so every season or couple of seasons the level I’ve played at has increased and now I find myself here.”
Photo: Getty Images
Next on the agenda for Johnson, after taking part in a three-day England conditioning camp at Pennyhill Park, is the clash against the Barbarians for the Killik Cup at Twickenham Stadium on May 27.
Training this week is all about impressing Head Coach Stuart Lancaster – a coach Johnson describes a man who “backs his players” – enough for a starting role in the Twickenham showpiece.
Johnson, who scored a try for Lancaster on his England Saxons debut last season, added: “It’s all about the Baa Baas game and then we’ll look to South Africa after that.
“It’s going to be tough as the squad they’ve put out is very talented so we’ve got to focus on that and hopefully get a good week in and find out about the starting 15.
“He [Lancaster] just backs you to try things and wants you to play your game and play to your strengths. I certainly feel he’s supported me with the Saxons and he’s just a good guy to be coached by.
“I want to have a good training week and put pressure on the guys above. There’s obviously a pecking order as they played outstandingly during the Six Nations – I’ll just play my game and see what comes of it.”
And with potential No.6’s Tom Croft, Tom Wood, Calum Clark and Courtney Lawes missing from the squad for South Africa, backrow opportunities beckon for Johnson to continue his measured progression to the England Senior side this summer.