- Newly recalled flanker recognises role of club
- “I've always said good things come off the back of the team doing well” – Johnson
Photo: Getty Images
Exeter Chiefs talisman Tom Johnson is “over the moon” to have been brought into Stuart Lancaster's England squad for the forthcoming QBE internationals and is thankful for his club’s role in getting him back on the international radar.
Initially named alongside fellow Chief Jack Nowell in the 32-man England Saxons squad earlier in the year, the all-action flanker was promoted back into the elite ranks yesterday following an eye-catching start to the new season and injury to Leicester's Tom Croft.
The 31-year-old has been in outstanding form in the Aviva Premiership and capped that on Sunday by scoring the first of Exeter’s six tries in a 44-29 Heineken Cup win over Cardiff Blues at Sandy Park.
Commenting on his recall, Johnson said: “I'm over the moon. It's been a long way back for me, but the way the boys have started the season here at Exeter has been fantastic.
“I've always said good things come off the back of the team doing well, so I'm just fortunate that I've been called back up into the senior squad.
“The last two games [against Gloucester Rugby and Cardiff] have been very pleasing. Last week against Cardiff was another step forward and I thought it was some of the best rugby we have produced for a while.”
This personal resurgence must be all the more satisfying for Johnson given his injuries woes last year – his game-time was seriously limited from January when he sustained a serious damage to his knee ligaments in a European fixture against Leinster.
But Lancaster was eager to use the Exeter man’s experience over the summer and included him in the friendly with the Barbarians at Twickenham in May and the June tour to South America.
Photo: Getty Images
With that in mind, Johnson admits getting back out onto the field and featuring regularly for the Chiefs was his main goal heading into the new season – with his England return an “added bonus”.
“First and foremost, my main aim at the start of this season was just to get a place in the Exeter team,” he continued. “I got fit towards the end of last season, but the boys were outstanding come the end and I just couldn't get a look in.
“I knew pre-season was going to be tough this year, but I've played the last five games and I'm enjoying my rugby.”
“To be fair to Stuart, he didn't have to take me to South America,” he added. “But he did and he gave me rugby time that I wouldn't necessarily have got until pre-season. That in itself was a huge mental barrier for me to overcome as I had to test the knee and test whether I was fit enough.
“At the time you just want to get all these demons out of your head, so to have that before pre-season and know that I could get to that level again was a huge benefit for me.”
With a series of tough encounters against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand on the horizon, Johnson just hopes he can use his time away with England positively and hopefully added to his five Test caps.
“I'd loved to be involved but I do understand that I am in the squad because Tom [Croft] has had another unfortunate injury,” he added.
“I know there is a pecking order, but it's up to me to put the pressure on the boys above and see what happens.”
Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter assumed the role of England forwards coach in Garaham Rowntree's absence this summer, and yesterday Lancaster said Johnson was one of a few Chiefs who had put their hand up for selection.
“It's not just Tom playing well,” he explained. “A number of them are pushing very hard now, the younger players in particular – there is Henry Slade and Sam Hill is a stand-out.
“There are more and more players from Exeter and rightly so – they play a great brand of rugby and are well coached. Tom deserves his selection and the challenge for him is to get from the squad into the team. He understands that and is very determined.”