VIDEO: Tom Johnson delighted by return to England squad
Exeter Chiefs flanker Tom Johnson said he is delighted to have forced his way back into Stuart Lancaster’s senior England squad for the autumn internationals.
The flanker, who has featured in five Tests for England, was selected in the 32-man Saxons squad, but injuries and his own good form have seen him promoted once more.
The 31-year-old has made an excellent recovery from a serious knee injury sustained in the Heineken Cup against Leinster in January. Johnson made his comeback during England’s win over Barbarians in May and was included in the summer tour of South America.
He said: “To be fair to Stuart [Lancaster], he didn’t have to take me to South America. But he did and he gave me rugby time that I wouldn’t necessarily have got until pre-season.
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“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.”
Johnson has made a strong start to the season and played a major role in Chiefs recent victories against Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup and Gloucester in the Premiership.
However, he is the first to acknowledge that his international opportunity has come about, in part, because of an injury to Leicester Tigers’ Tom Croft. The challenge will now be to disrupt the established order within the England squad during Tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.
He said: “I loved to be involved but I do understand that I am in the squad because Tom has had another unfortunate injury. 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 head coach Rob Baxter believes Johnson’s inclusion is well deserved. He said: “I think he was very unfortunate to drop out of the senior squad. He played very well while he was there and started the tour of Argentina with the game against the Barbarians and did very well.
“On form, he has probably shown that he should be there.”
Chiefs also have back Jack Nowell in the Saxons squad and Baxter expects others to follow their lead in the near future. No.8 Dave Ewers, who has taken over the back-row position with distinction since the retirement of Richard Baxter at the end of last season, has been talked about a potential international.
Baxter said: “We want to have as many players in that England set-up as possible. Dave has got to be his own man, rather than fill Richie’s shoes, and he’s done that extremely well.
“He is one of a number of guys benefiting from what we are trying to do – and that is to perform well on the big stage. We have put in some big team performances and, in those, individuals stand out.”
England Elite Player Squad, forwards: David Attwood (Bath), Dan Cole (Leicester), Alex Corbisiero (Northampton), Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Ben Morgan (Gloucester), Geoff Parling (Leicester), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola (both Saracens), David Wilson (Bath), Tom Wood (Northampton), Tom Youngs (Leicester). Backs: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Mike Brown (Harlequins), Freddie Burns (Gloucester), Luther Burrell (Northampton), Danny Care (Harlequins), Lee Dickson (Northampton), Kyle Eastmond (Bath), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Toby Flood (Leicester), Ben Foden (Northampton), Alex Goode (Saracens), Henry Trinder (Gloucester), Joel Tomkins (Saracens), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester), Christian Wade (Wasps), Marland Yarde (London Irish), Ben Youngs (Leicester).