The fact that Sam Johnson can joke about the ankle injury which had him briefly wearing a moon boot last week, and which has ruled him out of Scotland’s two World Cup warm-up games against France during the next fortnight, is surely a good thing.
“Adam Hastings tried to kill me!” quipped the 26-year-old Australian-born centre, who has only played four games for Scotland but has already established himself as a key member of the squad with a series of towering performances, not least in the tumultuous Calcutta Cup draw in March when his 40-metre try briefly put his team 38-31 ahead with five minutes to go.
In fairness to Hastings, it should be stressed that there is not really any suggestion of intent and Johnson’s life was never at risk. “He stood on my foot, or I stood on his foot, and just rolled it over,” Johnson clarified. “It was in St Andrews [at a training camp two weeks ago]. The injury is to my ankle ligaments.
“For the first half an hour I feared the worst, but it didn’t pop or anything like that, so I thought ‘It can’t be too bad’. James Robson is such a good doctor that he got me in for a scan straight away and we got the results soon after. Once we knew where we were at, we had a plan, so it was fine.”
Johnson’s casual analysis of the situation is perhaps due to his Australian upbringing but could also be because he has got fairly used to dealing with injury set-backs during his short time in and around the Scotland set-up. His international debut was delayed last November when he picked up a knee injury just a few days after being called up to the Autumn Test training squad.
“It [injury] is just one of those things,” he shrugged. “You don’t really want to think about it, but it is at the back of the mind. It’s part of the sport.
“I’m on the bike at the moment but hopefully I’ll be running later in the week. It’s only been a week and a half since the injury so it’s coming around pretty quick. I’m aiming for one of the Georgia games, probably Georgia away [on 31 August].”
Assuming Johnson does recover in time, he should make the 31-man squad for the World Cup in Japan, but it is not quite a foregone conclusion. Centre is a highly competitive position, with Peter Horne, Duncan Taylor, uncapped Rory Hutchinson, Chris Harris and Huw Jones all providing compelling arguments for selection.
Coach Gregor Townsend has spoken several times about the value of having versatility in the squad and all of the players listed above apart from Johnson and Jones are accomplished in at least two positions. However, specialisation isn’t a dirty word in the Scotland camp, and the fact that Johnson ticks so many of the boxes for what Scotland need from an inside centre, and the fact he has shown he has a big-match temperament, means that it would be a surprise if he doesn’t make the cut.
Meanwhile, hooker Fraser Brown remains on track to get some game time at the tail-end of Scotland’s pre-season fixture schedule. He picked up a toe injury during Glasgow Warriors’ Guinness Pro14 Grand Final defeat by Leinster at Celtic Park in May, and remains in rehab, but his recovery is on schedule.
“My aim has always been to be involved in the latter part of the [warm-up] games, and I’m still on track for that,” he said. “I might even be a little bit ahead of schedule, but it will all depend on the next couple of weeks and how much running I can get under my belt. I definitely won’t be involved in the next two weeks.
“I got back running last week, just trying to build my engine up a little bit, and all going well I will hopefully progress in the next week or two to more skills stuff, then into full training after that. It has been good for me to be in and around camp the whole, to have that consistency with the same medics and the same strength and conditioning staff, and to be able to observe the rugby stuff which will hopefully make the transition back to playing smoother.”
l Johnson and Brown were speaking at the launch of Scottish Rugby and Edinburgh’s three-year sponsorship deal with the Edinburgh-based distiller John Crabbie & Co.