TJ's raring to go again

Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/Pinnacle Photo Agency

By Mark Stevens

Tom Johnson says he is relishing getting back out on the pitch with Exeter Chiefs tomorrow as they welcome the Cornish Pirates to Sandy Park in their second pre-season fixture (3pm).

Having sat out last Saturday's narrow 8-6 home defeat to Connacht, Johnson lines-up in a powerful Chiefs line-up that will be looking to replicate last season's pre-season victory over their visitors from the Duchy.

Twelve months ago Rob Baxter's side dispatched the Pirates with aplomb 58-3 at the Mennaye Field in a similar warm-up clash - and Johnson is hopeful he and his team-mates can be equally as effective when the two clubs meet again.

The game itself will be the 30-year-old's first taste of competitive action since he played for England in their final Test match against South Africa back in June, when he figured in all three of England's fixtures against the Springboks.

His selection by Stuart Lancaster saw him become the first Exeter player since Martin Underwood 48 years previous to represent the Red Rose country at the highest level.

It was an experience the all-action forward is keen to savour again in the future, but he knows he must continue to keep delivering for the Chiefs out on the pitch.

With that in mind, Johnson's seasonal work will begin against the Pirates in a game he admits he is "really looking forward too".

"It's been a while since I played a bit of rugby," said Johnson. "For a few of us it's going to be out first run out of the new season, but the whole team is buzzing and we're looking to going out there and putting in a performance that we can be proud of and one that gets the crowd behind us."

Johnson conceded that the Chiefs squad were "disappointed" with their display against Connacht last week and that they were looking to address that loss with a much improved display this time round.

However, the England star is well aware that the Pirates are themselves no mugs and having tackled them on numerous occasions in the past, he is expecting a decent challenge from Ian Davies' side.

"Pirates are a very good outfit and they did well in the Championship last year," added Johnson. "We know they always bring a good team down to Sandy Park and the boys that faced them last year said they were a tough team, which is probably why Rob chose to play them again because he knows they'll give us a real good test.

"They are a side that like to play a lot of running rugby and move the ball around, so we have to make sure we don't fall into playing almost sevens rugby against them. For us this is a pre-season game we have to win first and foremost - and an opportunity to try and nail down those systems we have been working hard on in training."

Lining up alongside Johnson will be a number of the club's summer signings, all of whom have settled in nicely to their new surroundings at Sandy Park.

"Rob has brought in some really good guys," said Johnson. "All of them have shown their worth in training already, so getting into the squad this season is going to be tough for all of us. That said, we've got to cope with the Heineken Cup this year, so it's vital we have that strength in depth to cover us throughout the season."

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