Saracens v Glasgow: It’s not Calcutta Cup part 2, says Sam Johnson

Sam Johnson evades the clutches of Elliot Daly, George Ford and Ben Spencer as he crosses to score Scotland's sixth try against England at Twickenham. Picture: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Sam Johnson evades the clutches of Elliot Daly, George Ford and Ben Spencer as he crosses to score Scotland's sixth try against England at Twickenham. Picture: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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Sam Johnson’s dramatic Calcutta Cup try two weeks ago, which saw him burst on to Finn Russell’s short pass near the halfway line to pierce England’s front-line defence and then power through four tackles from Jack Nowell, Elliot Daly, Ben Spencer and George Ford to snatch an improbable 38-31 lead for Scotland, will follow the Australian-born centre for the rest of his career.

Scotland couldn’t hold on to that lead and had to make do with a draw in the end, but that crazy day at Twickenham remains destined to go down in rugby folklore as a ‘where-were-you-when-Johnson-scored-that-try?’ sort of moment.

The player himself shrugs, slightly self-consciously, when his moment of magic is brought up. “I haven’t watched the game back yet,” he says. “Obviously, I’ve seen my try a couple of times. I’m not really big on social media but my girlfriend showed me a few reactions from people watching at home. The biggest buzz I got out of all of it was seeing how happy it made people around the country.

“That’s something you don’t really realise when you’re doing it. To see that kind of reaction is such a good 
feeling.”

It all happened at the end of Johnson’s first Six Nations campaign. It was a topsy-turvy two months for the player and the Scotland team. After a solid start against Italy, things unravelled slightly against Ireland, and then, after a disappointing experience in Paris, the centre was dropped for the Wales game, before regaining his place for Twickenham.

Johnson was given last week off, during which time he attempted to buy a flat in Glasgow. “Other than that, I sat on the couch, ate pizza and played PlayStation,” he says. “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.”

Focus has now turned firmly back to club duty but there is not going to be much drop-off in intensity, with a titanic clash away to Saracens in the quarter-final of the Champions Cup on Saturday. It will be the third time the sides have met this season, and the two previous encounters – in the pool stage of the same competition – have not been for the faint hearted, with the English champions coming out on top on both occasions.

Johnson says that he and his team-mates will take confidence from what went down at Twickenham two weeks ago, but it won’t have a direct bearing on the game.

“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,” he said. “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. 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 Rennie is looking to get as much experience on the park as possible then he may decide to shift Johnson from 12 to 13.