Born in England to a Scottish father and a mum from Wales, age grade international lock Ewan Johnson could be forgiven for feeling confused when Scotland play France this evening in Pau after returning “home” where he has lived since the age of four.
Johnson’s parents both served in the Met Police, both retired at an early age and moved to France. Johnson was brought up in Brittany and is currently enjoying his second season with the Racing 92 academy in Paris. It is something of a disappointment that he doesn’t sport an Inspector Clouseau French accent.
“I have been there since I was four and did all my schooling there,” he said in perfect English. “I play in a club with Jordan Joseph (the French U20s No 8), so I have played with him quite a bit. Other than that I have played against some of the other boys in under-18 leagues, things like that and the under-23 league.
“For me, I am just going home! But especially going down south, they love rugby down there, I think it will be a pretty big crowd. I think we just need to focus on the job in hand and not worry about the French crowd. If everyone does their job properly we should be fine.”
At one point Johnson was asked if French rugby is very different from the British version and he was at a loss for an answer because the only rugby he has played in the UK has been a few games for the Scotland U20s.
The French have a more sympathetic system than in Britain whereby their clubs all run age grade teams at under-23 level to give players a stepping stone into the professional ranks, les Espoirs (the hopefuls).
It’s an odd existence where all les Espoirs are housed in hostel-like accommodation, like a hybrid boarding school/sports academy. Most of the players obviously don’t make it to the full Racing squad but everyone is ... well, hopeful.
“It’s pretty full on, you can’t get away from rugby but I guess that is what you sign up for,” says the young Scotland lock.
“Some games it’s pretty physical because you get the pros dropping down to get some game time. We’ve had Donnacha Ryan, the big Irish lock, down for a game last year and then you get some teams who don’t have that many pros, so it varies.”
Johnson has spoken to his fellow countryman Finn Russell a couple of times at Racing and laughs out loud when it is suggested he might do a bit of language tutoring on the side.
And, despite his mongrel background, the big lock is married to Scotland now, for richer or poorer.
He added: “Even if I was lucky enough to be wanted by other countries I couldn’t go through with it because Scotland had trust with me.”