There have been other crackers down the years, Alan Lawson in 1976 and Huw Jones in 2018 spring to mind, but Sam Johnson’s thundering late charge to put Scotland 38-31 up and within grasp of a first Twickenham triumph in 35 years is right up there. The inspired Finn Russell, inset, put Johnson in the gap with lots still seemingly to do and a number of covering England defenders scrambling, but they were left helpless as the Queensland-born centre, on only his fourth appearance fro Scotland, crashed over at the post protector.
Despite being held by desperate Englishman the grounding is firm and clean, which can’t clearly be said about Stanger’s, with the country’s great joint-top tryscorer admitting himself it may have been “iffy” with a possible grounding against his knee rather than the turf in that hallowed main-stand corner of the national stadium.
Oh how another Hawick man this week must be yearning for the days before TMO. But back to Johnson and his memories of that magnificent world-class effort from just over 40 metres out.
“I probably didn’t realise the magnitude of things at the time. I remember sitting on the bench at the end with my head in my hands,” said Johnson, recalling the sweet then bitter crazy minutes of a bonkers game, which saw George Ford’s try and Owen Farrell’s conversion rescue a draw for an England side who had led 31-0 on the half-hour mark.
“We were disappointed we had drawn,” continued the Warriors midfielder.
“I was in shock with what I had achieved in scoring the try, but I honestly didn’t think I’d won the game at that point because Test match rugby is a different animal from everything else.
“They came back and they got the draw.”
Johnson won’t have Russell, for well-documented reasons, to provide any assists this year as Scotland prepare to host England at Murrayfield on Saturday.
“The try wasn’t a planned move as such, it was just seeing what was in front of us in playing into space,” continued the 26-year-old.
“Manu [Tuilagi, another absentee this weekend with a groin strain] was drifting out and Nathan Hughes bit on Finn and that created the space. Finn is a good enough rugby player that he saw the space and I just ran into it.”
You never know in modern Test rugby but it seems unlikely that a match the likes of which we witnessed with growing astonishment almost 12 months ago will unfold again, for many a year never mind this Saturday, as two under-pressure sides endeavour to get their 2020 campaigns up and running following opening losses.
“Last year was pretty unique. To play a game like that again would be highly unlikely,” agreed the centre. “There were some tough memories followed by some of the memories I will remember for the rest of my life. I remember after the game being totally gutted because it’s a game we should have won. You wouldn’t have thought that half an hour into it. We were disappointed because the opposition were celebrating the draw.”
The loss of Tuilagi doesn’t weaken the threat coming Johnson and Scotland’s way, according to the No 12 who has established himself as one of Gregor Townsend’s first names on the teamsheet.
“I mean, I’m gutted for Manu. You want to be playing against the best people and he’s one of the best centres in the world,” said Johnson, though he did go on to admit slight relief that he won’t be facing the prospect of the Samoa-born powerhouse bearing down on him.
“But I definitely was quite happy when I saw he was ruled out for this weekend – it saves a few bruises,” said Johnson with a smile. “Last year I was sore for a week! I would imagine Jonathan Joseph will slip into the role. He’s more of an outside break guy. And Owen Farrell is one of the best players in the world.” As Johnson continues his rise, Scotland will be hoping their captain Hogg can bounce back from the agony of that dropped ball over the line in Dublin and prove that he, too, is one of the best players in the world.
“Stuart’s fine. He was obviously disappointed with what happened at the time,” said Johnson.
“But you just rally round him and he gets over it pretty quickly, because he’s got the next thing to do. We haven’t reflected on it. S*** happens.”