Edinburgh's James Johnstone out to forge future in 15-a-side
The centre has been given his opportunity with Edinburgh after several seasons on the sevens circuit and feels that it is time to try and forge a future in the 15-a-side game, although he is yet to learn if he will be back with the abbreviated Scotland squad when the world series kicks off in Dubai next month.
“I don’t really know myself at the moment,” admitted Johnstone, who is hoping for another taste of Guinness Pro14 action tomorrow when Edinburgh host Ospreys at Myreside.
“I am getting opportunities in the team and am trying to take them one game at a time and put out the best impression I can. At the moment, I am not sure how that will work out, I am sure discussions will be ongoing.
“I have my opinion to put into it. At the moment I am enjoying being back in 15s and getting the opportunity to play. I am taking that one game at a time.”
When pushed, Johnstone does admit he sees nailing down a regular place with Edinburgh as the most desirable progression.
Test wing Dougie Fife is another who has been brought back from sevens into the 15s fold at Edinburgh and has returned to the international squad for the upcoming autumn Tests.
“Career-wise I am looking more to the 15s avenue at the moment just because I am in that environment and have been given the opportunities,” said Johnstone. “I have achieved a lot, I feel, in sevens and feel I can always go back with my skillset to the sevens game. At the moment I am concentrating on 15s.
“I have played sevens for quite a few years and achieved quite a lot, I feel,” he added. “This is a new challenge for me. I am really grateful to [head coach] Richard [Cockerill] for giving me the opportunity to show I can play 15s as well. I am just enjoying that part of it and trying to show what I can do on the 15s pitch at the moment.”
Johnstone began his rugby journey playing minis in his hometown of Dumfries, before moving to Merchiston Castle school in Edinburgh. He played for Watsonians, Currie and Scotland Under-20s before becoming a key man in the Scotland Sevens squad.
After training in the summer with Edinburgh and playing in pre-season games he has grasped his chance to show his abilities in the Pro14 and European Challenge Cup.
“You need a little bit of time to change and adapt,” he explained. “For me, having been away from 15s for a while, it took me a little time to get up to speed at the start of the season.
“I feel I am experienced in the sevens circuit but it might take me a little while to get up to speed again on the physical side. The evidence shows there are a lot of players who have come through that programme [sevens] and gone on to be Scotland internationals so I do see it like that.
“I feel I have been in sevens a long time and maybe could have made the transition a little earlier but I have been given the opportunity now and am very happy that Richard has given me that chance to move across
“I had a good four seasons of sevens without much 15s. I played the odd game [three as a replacement] here and there but had not played for a very long time. It is still rugby at the end of the day but I got up to speed pretty quickly though it does take a little time.”
Johnstone is delighted for his mate Fife, the six-times capped wing whose future seemed uncertain after he was shunted from Edinburgh to the sevens squad at the end of the 2015-16 season. The centre is also happy to be working again with Calum MacRae, the former Sevens boss who is now defence coach at Edinburgh.
“I am really, really pleased for Dougie,” said Johnstone. “He has done brilliantly well. I am really happy to see him [called up to Scotland]. We played together through the age grades and played quite a lot together in past years so I am really happy to see him back at the level he should be.
“I am very familiar with Calum because he has coached me the last few years and then moved into this. He has helped me a lot and developed me as a player. It is good to have him as a point of contact.”