Exeter Chiefs flanker Tom Johnson says he is “over the moon” to have been recalled into Stuart Lancaster's England squad.
Exeter Chiefs flanker Tom Johnson says he is “over the moon” to have been recalled into Stuart Lancaster's England squad for the November internationals.
Having initially been named alongside club-mate Jack Nowell in the 32-man England Saxons squad earlier in the year, the all-action forward was today promoted back into the elite ranks following a superb start to the new season and an unfortunate injury to Leicester's Tom Croft.
The 31-year-old has been in outstanding form for the Chiefs this season and on Sunday he helped the Devon club get off to a flying start in this season's Heineken Cup when he scored the first of their six tries in a 44-29 win at Sandy Park.
Johnson's recall is just reward for the back-row ace, whose campaign last season was cut short in January when he sustained a serious injury in a European fixture at home to Leinster.
Although Johnson returned to fitness before the end of the season, such was the form of the Chiefs at that time that he found first team opportunities limited and had to play a watching brief for the closing weeks of the 2012/13 season.
Lancaster, however, was keen to utilise the experience of the Exeter man and he was included in the friendly with the Barbarians at Twickenham in May, as well as featuring on the summer tour to South America where he took to the field in the warm-up clash with a Representative XV in Uruguay.
Commenting on his recall, he said: “I'm over the moon. It's been a long way back for me, but the way the boys have started the season here at Exeter has been fantastic. I've always said good things come off the back of the team doing well, so I'm just fortunate that I've been called back up into the senior squad.
“The last two games [against Gloucester and Cardiff] have been very pleasing and unfortunately we needed that first half against Leicester to drive home that we weren't delivering and refocus ourselves. Thankfully the second half of that game we did much better and it gave us belief which we then took to Gloucester.
“Last week against Cardiff was another step forward and I thought it was some of the best rugby we have produced for a while.”
Johnson admits getting back out onto the field and featuring regularly for the Chiefs was his number one goal heading into the new season – and that his return to the main England fold is an “added bonus”.
“First and foremost, my main aim at the start of the season was just to get a place in the Exeter team,” he continued.
“I got fit towards the end of last season, but the boys were outstanding come the end and I just couldn't get a look in. I knew pre-season was going to be tough this year, but I've played the last five games and I'm enjoying my rugby.”
Johnson also admitted his inclusion on England's June tour – where Chiefs' head coach Rob Baxter was also involved – has also played a vital role on his road to recovery.
“To be fair to Stuart, he didn't have to take me to South America,” he added.
“But he did and he gave me rugby time that I wouldn't necessarily have got until pre-season. That in itself was a huge mental barrier for me to overcome as I had to test the knee and test whether I was fit enough.
“At the time you just want to get all these demons out of your head, so to have that before pre-season and know that I could get to that level again was a huge benefit for me.”
With November Tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand on the horizon, Johnson hopes he can use his time away with England positively and hopefully added to his five international caps.
“I'd loved to be involved but I do understand that I am in the squad because Tom has had another unfortunate injury,” he said. “I know there is a pecking order, but it's up to me to put the pressure on the boys above and see what happens.”