Scotland’s Sam Johnson eager to give Dupont & Co Les Bleus

To slightly misquote his historic namesake, the man tired of international rugby is tired of life.

Scotland's Sam Johnson during an open training session at Melrose Rugby Football Club. Picture: SNS
Scotland's Sam Johnson during an open training session at Melrose Rugby Football Club. Picture: SNS

Samuel M. Johnson has hoovered up 12 caps since the start of February last year and the Queenslander, who qualifies for Scotland on residency, has become one of the first names on national head coach Gregor Townsend’s teamsheet.

The inside centre might be a newcomer to the Scottish cause but he’s bought in and revealed the atmosphere in the camp is good after Saturday’s 17-0 win in Italy got the campaign up and running and on to six points in the table following bonus-point losses to Ireland and England.

“It’s good. It’s definitely the best environment that I’ve been in during my time with Scotland. I think we’re turning a page to playing some good rugby and getting the results,” said the Glasgow Warriors midfielder.

“We will prepare for France this week and next week and see how we go. Obviously they are a really good side and playing really well at the moment.”

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That they are. The rejuvenated Les Bleus are the story of world rugby this year, though Scotland got a glimpse at what was coming when the new crop, who are being primed for a home World Cup in 2023, were unleashed against them in last summer’s warm-up Test in Nice, which ended 32-3 in the home team’s favour.

“They are a good young side and they have a good coaching staff who are bringing out the best of their attributes,” said Johnson, who wasn’t involved in that humbling on the Riviera but did face the French in last year’s Six Nations loss in Paris.

“You look at Toulouse especially in the top 14, with [scrum-half] Antoine Dupont and [stand-off] Romain Ntamack. They are through to the quarter-finals and there are playing some really good rugby at the moment. They will come out all guns blazing,” said Johnson.

The Glasgow centre has experience of facing French sides at club level as well as that cap in Paris and said the cockerel’s renewed swagger was not a shock. “I’m not really surprised by it,” said Johnson. “It doesn’t take much to switch things around. They are on a good spell of form and full of confidence. That goes a long way too, and they’ve got good coaches.”

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As Racing 92 playmaker Finn Russell remains on the outer for the rest of this Six Nations, France’s 20-year-old prospect Romain Ntamack hoves into view.

His dad Emile broke Scottish hearts with a late winning try in the pool stage of the 1995 World Cup in South Africa and Johnson is wary of the youngster’s threats.

“He was a finalist for European player of the year. He’s controlling the team really well at 10 and his relationship with Dupont is really good. They are electric players, full of confidence and full of form, and he’s leading really well,” said Johnson.

Preparations for France begin in earnest this week but Johnson said Scotland, who have beaten France on their past three visits to BT Murrayfield, will be more focused on themselves.

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“We will have a look at what they are doing leading into next weekend’s game, just to get an idea of a few things they are trying to do,” said Johnson of the French.

“But we do look after ourselves and I think that’s something we’ve done really well over these first few weeks because we haven’t overstressed about what the opposition are doing.

“Obviously, we have a new defensive system with Steve Tandy, so we are trying to get that in place and it has been working really well so far.”

Johnson teamed up in the Scotland midfield with Gloucester’s Chris Harris in Rome after starting the first two Six Nations games with his since-dropped Glasgow clubmate Huw Jones.

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“Chris is a really good player and a really good person who I’ve enjoyed playing with. I enjoy playing with Huw as well because we are really good mates at Glasgow and it was unfortunate that he didn’t play at the weekend,” said Johnson.

“I thought Chris took his opportunity really well with a good try and was defensively really solid, getting a few turnovers.

“I think it has been a really good thing in the camp so far that we have been building relationships. There are no cliques, nothing like that. We are a really strong unit and we are trying to do our best to progress.”

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