Wednesday 23 October 2019

'We are expecting a hugely physical encounter' - Scotland's Johnson braced for tough Ireland clash

Scotland’s Sam Johnson is looking to knock Ireland off their throne on Sunday (Graham Stuart/PA)
Scotland’s Sam Johnson is looking to knock Ireland off their throne on Sunday (Graham Stuart/PA)

Jonathan Bradley

With a day to be spent away from their Minato City base and the training paddock yesterday, the Scottish squad took in day 12 of the Sumo Grand Championship at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.

While big men pushing and shoving may bear some resemblance to a scrum session, it was a chance to get away from rugby and the World Cup campaign now just two days away.

Thoughts were presumably far from Ireland as they took in the best that Japan's national sport has to offer, certainly not dwelling on just who will be occupying the green jerseys 11 through 15 come Sunday morning (kick-off 8.45am Irish time).

The assumption has been, that despite the optimistic outlook painted by defence coach Andy Farrell, that both Keith Earls and Rob Kearney are to miss the key pool A clash and that Irish management's briefings to the contrary were intended to keep Scotland guessing to the last.

Speaking to the assembled media before making the trip to the dohyo yesterday morning, centre Sam Johnson admitted it wasn't something they'd paid overdue attention regardless.

"Not really," he said when asked if the promotion of Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway to the starting line-up will alter the plan. "Even though there are some really good payers who are injury doubts, they would be replaced by Conway and Larmour, who are just as good.

"Especially with those two, if you give them a bit of time and space they will do a bit of damage. We will look at how we want to play the game tactically and eliminate that threat. We will see what happens."

At the World Cup in 2015, Aussie-born Johnson had just arrived in Scotland, readying himself to start life in the northern hemisphere with Glasgow Warriors.

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"I was living in a little club flat in Earl Street Scotstoun," says the 26-year-old of where he was when the country of his birth met Scotland in that contentious quarter-final.

"I remember watching that. I was watching it on my own, I didn't know anybody back then. I was just a kid who had come from Australia so I was cheering for Australia, I didn't know any better. I had no idea about rugby union, I was more a rugby league guy.

"I am a different person to the one I was four years ago."

Now, and having played in this fixture back in February, he can judge Ireland with the knowledge of a near neighbour.

"Because they are a home country I am probably a bit more familiar with the style of rugby they want to play," he added.

"It does help that they are a home country and we are now in a different country, a neutral venue. That evens the playing field a bit more.

"They are such a physical team. A lot of their work comes off (half-backs Conor) Murray and (Johnny) Sexton sort of orchestrates stuff from behind so we are expecting a hugely physical encounter but that doesn't mean they don't have the flair out wide to break you on the edges.

"Their kicking game is going to be a huge strength for them, especially with the weather if it is going to be wet, so we need to put as much pressure on their half-back pairing. Murray and Sexton are world-class so we will deal with the threats that are put in front of us.

"It might be weather dependent. That might dictate the terms of play but definitely we are expecting that physicality this weekend."

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