Monday 21 May 2018

Talented Tipp native is ready to take on his rivals

The Big Interview: David Johnston

David Johnston is looking to make a big impression on new coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Johnston is looking to make a big impression on new coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Munster haven't won silverware at senior level since 2011, but their A side claimed a second B&I Cup last term and it was a massive step in the right direction for a squad brimming with depth and confidence.

Munster reached the PRO12 final and Champions Cup semi-final, but after failing to earn silverware there, their B&I Cup success became all the more significant and it meant so much to the players involved too.

Dave Johnston (23) was one of those, and he starred that day when Munster A registered a stunning 29-28 comeback victory over Jersey Reds at Irish Independent Park.

Johnston scored a try, three conversions and a penalty in that epic encounter on April 21 when Munster battled back from 18-0 down. And he said that success was down to the brilliant squad effort throughout the campaign.

"Before in previous seasons the team has been thrown together last minute. It's very hard to play well consistently and get good results against well-organised teams," said Johnston.

"Last year we had so much depth that regular guys were playing the A games and we had some bigger forwards which makes a big difference against the English Championship teams, where we struggled before. We would concede three or four more tries and it's difficult to play against that.

"This year we just had a big group of players who wanted to play, and after we won a few games we got confidence and when we got to the quarter-finals and onwards we were ruthless.

"The coaches were our academy coaches too and it was great to play games for them too. I was delighted for them because in the last four or five years we didn't get anywhere, to go on and win it was brilliant. I really enjoyed it."

Pete Malone's side didn't kick off their B&I campaign in the best of circumstances, suffering a 30-15 defeat at home to London Welsh in the opening game, but when the English club were thrown out it breathed new life in Munster As' season.

"We lost our first game to London Welsh but they were liquidated after so they were out of the competition.

"We had a fresh start after that and won every game. We beat Doncaster away in England," said Johnston.

"I remember two or three years ago we lost in the quarter-final to them badly. So to overturn that and beat them over there gave us a lot of confidence and we kept winning after that.

"The combination of us all training together in the new centre and the game-plan Jacques (Nienaber) and Rassie (Erasmus) brought in, it was very structured and we were used to playing it during the week.

TROUBLE

"We might have been in trouble in some games but we could fall back on that and everyone knew what we were doing."

Munster A's loss against London Welsh happened the day before Anthony Foley's untimely death in Paris. It was a shocking couple of months for the province but they bounced back in inspirational fashion, across all competitions.

And the Clonmel native said 'Axel' was in the back of everyone's minds as they endeavoured to raise the bar on and off the pitch.

"After that happened we got on a good run and there was a willingness to work and try and succeed in the club in general. We all played for each other and wanted to play," said Johnston.

"In previous years guys were disappointed to be playing A games but we wanted to play. And there was such a huge turnaround."

Erasmus and Nienaber became inspirational figures in Limerick towards the end of 2016-17, and it was down to the manner in which they responded to Axel's passing.

They helped the team re-group and some fresh new tactics propelled Munster back to their former status as a serious force in the elite of European Rugby.

"They have had a big influence on me. They were great. The biggest thing they gave us was structure in our game that in other years we could have done anything," said Johnston.

"But the whole squad right into the academy has an understanding about how to win rugby games. Our game-plan was much more sophisticated than the teams we were coming up against.

"When we were under pressure we knew what needed to be done. What they gave us most was the structure where we may have been lost in direction before that.

"Jacques as defence coach, he was a really good personality to have around on the pitch. He was really good fun."

Munster's former director of rugby and defence coach will be missed dearly, but Johann van Graan has begun his reign and the squad are excited to be operating under another young and energetic enforcer from South Africa.

Johnston, who can play from ten to 15 for Munster and Garryowen, is currently combining rugby with his studies.

The former Rockwell College student is completing his final-year project in sports science at UL and he is looking at challenging himself to become the finished product under Van Graan at Munster this season too.

"As a guy who has been on the fringes it's nice to see a fresh face coming in with a fresh look on things. As a young guy he has more of a vision for change," said Johnston.

"I am looking forward to that and we all have to prove ourselves again."

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