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South Africa v England, Durban
Debut caps Johnson's remarkable rise
ESPN Staff
June 8, 2012
Exeter flanker Tom Johnson carries the ball forward, Harlequins v Exeter, Aviva Premiership, The Stoop, Twickenham, London, September 25, 2010
Tom Johnson has been hugely impressive for Exeter over the past two seasons © Getty Images
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Tom Johnson will make his England debut against South Africa tomorrow in a match which caps a remarkable rise in the blindside's career.

Johnson has been one of the most consistent flankers in the Aviva Premiership over the past two seasons where he has played an integral part in the Exeter Chiefs' impressive form. With Tom Wood, Tom Croft and Calum Clark all absent, Johnson has been handed the blindside berth for England's first Test with the Springboks in Durban tomorrow.

He has turned out for England against the Barbarians in the past but ahead of his first full cap, Johnson has revealed that there was a stage in his life when he was contemplating turning his back on rugby. Johnson's route to the Test team is also unorthodox.

"I remember when I was deciding to go to rugby or the Army - the Paras - and in their interview they said, 'Do you think you would make a professional rugby player?' Johnson said. "I said I probably wouldn't, and the Army was probably more realistic. But here I am. That was when I was 22 - seven years ago.

"I was playing for Reading at the time and had a decent season and got a letter from Coventry, (saying) please come and meet us. I went up there and they offered me a one-year contract.

"I thought I should give this a go for a year otherwise I would probably regret it. I got another year then went down to Exeter."

In being handed a cap to face the Springboks at Kings Park, he will become the Devon club's first England player since 1964 and his club coach Rob Baxter was one of the first to offer his congratulations.

"Coaches have to take a lot of credit for what they have instilled in us - the detail, the minor things that make the game-piece together," Johnson said. "When you add them all up you tend to get a decent game out if it.

"Rob Baxter has texted me and he was one of the first people I told. He said it was well deserved and just told me to go out and try and enjoy it."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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