SAM JOHNSON got a well-deserved week off after his Calcutta Cup heroics. He spent some of the time trying to buy a flat and the rest doing not very much. “I sat on the couch, ate pizza and played PlayStation,” he said. “The Six Nations is as emotionally hard as it is physically. For me, personally, my body didn’t want to move until the Wednesday after that weekend. But it’s all good now and I’m ready to go.”
Which is just as well because the big games just keep rolling in. Johnson will be back in Glasgow Warriors club colours this weekend, and the opposition is English champions Saracens in a do-or-die Champions Cup quarter-finals clash at Allianz Park in North London.
This will be the third meeting between the two sides this season, and the two previous encounters – which in the pool stage of the same competition – have been ferocious affairs, with Saracens edging it on both occasions.
Warriors are, obviously hoping that it will be third time lucky, and they will enter the match with a bit of extra swagger after the way the national team rose from the dead to snatch an improbable lead against their nearest and dearest rivals at Twickenham a fortnight ago through Johnson’s sensations try.
England managed to salvage a draw in the end, but only after their captain and chief playmaker Owen Farrell‘s game had fallen apart and he was replaced with 11 minutes to go. Farrell will be at 10 for Saracens on Saturday, and Warriors will be keen to rattle him once more.
“The best 10s in the world, when they get front-foot ball and time to play, they are the best players on the pitch – but if you can get up off the line, shut them down and get into them, then that creates pressure,” said Johnson.
Having said that, Johnson says that it would be foolish to read too much into that Calcutta Cup clash ahead of this game. Saracens are a very different proposition from England, especially in terms of their mental toughness and unyielding focus, which allows them to grind out result after result even when they are not playing at their best.
“I know there are a lot of Glasgow boys with Scotland and England guys at Saracens, but this is a different game, a different week, and we’ve got past that,” said the 25-year-old Australian-born centre. “We are aware of the challenge ahead and we’re ready to go there and give it our best crack.
“I played the last game down there and I thought we actually played some great rugby for 80 per cent of the time, created lots of opportunities and things like that. But against a team like Saracens, who are one of the best teams in Europe, that 20 per cent when you are not on it will hurt you. They build their game around that power and resilience, and you know if you give them a sniff then they’re going to take it. That’s probably where we were stuffed last time … just giving them a chance.
“The big thing this week is our physicality and to achieve that we’ve got to go in with our mindset right. This morning the forwards have been hitting each other a bit harder to get to their level of physicality, because you want that to be your mindset going in.”
With Huw Jones and Nick Grigg both injured this week, and Glasgow’s third international outside centre in Alex Dunbar now off the radar having been released to Newcastle Falcons on loan as he tries to recapture his form following an injury-ravaged couple of seasons, an area of strength for Dave Rennie’s team at the stat of the season is suddenly looking pretty thin on the ground.
South African Kyle Steyn impressed in that role against Toyota Cheetahs last weekend, but if head coach Dave Rennie is looking to get as much experience on the park as possible then he may decide to shift Johnson from 12 to 13.
“It’s just one channel out so not a whole-lot changes,” said the unshakeably laid-back Johnson. “If I was to play 13 and whoever plays 12, or vice versa, you’ve got to be adaptable out there. I played there in the Champions Cup at Leinster last year. I’ve played it enough that I’m comfortable in my clarity and knowing what I want to achieve.”
Fusaro signs on
Meanwhile, flanker Chris Fusaro has signed a two-year contract extension with the club.
“Next season will be my 10th year with the club and it’s been a huge honour to have called it my home for such a long time and to be able to continue to do so,” said the 29-year-old. “I live close to Scotsotun, my best friends are members of the squad and I’m really enjoying my rugby under Dave and the rest of the coaches. It was an easy decision for me and my family to make.”
Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie welcomed the re-signing.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Fuzzy,” he said. “On and off the pitch he is an incredible professional and our environment will only benefit from his involvement for the next two years.
“He is currently playing some of his best rugby and sets a fantastic example to young players coming through the ranks here at Scotsotun.”