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Tom Johnson: Apprehension gives way to relief after being named in England squad

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 16, 2013

Scoring a try for England against Fiji was one of my career highlights picture: Tim Ireland/PA

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It's always a bit of an anxious time ahead of an England squad being announced, so I was obviously over the moon to be named in it again last week.

Competition for places seems really hot at the moment, judging by the players who got in, and those who were left out.

To be honest, this time the feeling was more of relief than anything. When you're in the squad, you don't want to be taken out of it. You hear rumours and stuff like that, as well, so I was quite apprehensive.

I hoped I'd be included in the squad after the South African tour, but this one was a bit more up in the air with people coming back from fitness. And it seems like absolutely everyone playing in the back row in England is doing really well at the moment.

I actually got a text from Graham Rowntree on the morning before, saying the squad was going to be announced and that I was going to be selected.

You tend to have an inkling because the England medical staff come down, and the conditioners get in touch about a week before to check you are all right.

Generally, I think our medical team knows before we know, because the England doctor has to contact them, and their physios have to contact our physios. That's pretty much the dead giveaway.

But they don't say anything to me, so when it got announced last Wednesday one of the physios came up to me and said, 'Well done, congratulations. I've known for a week now...'

So now I will go up to Leeds on Sunday night and we've got a week's quite intensive training camp, where we'll be doing double rugby sessions a day – pretty tough going – just to get all the boys up to speed.

You have to take your club hat off and get used to all the different calls England have, plus a totally different system, and just the way of playing. It's mentally quite tough to switch on to.

I must admit, though, that I'm looking forward a lot more to this one, as it's not my first time, and also it tends to be quite refreshing training in a different environment with different people. It certainly freshens the mind.

One thing I'm not looking forward to is the cold up in Leeds. I'm putting all my thermals in the bag, for sure.

I have always tended to get freezing cold when I train, mainly caused by terrible circulation. My hands and feet just get freezing cold, which must be hereditary I think. I blame the old man.

It's one of the reasons I wear what's called a 'skin' which is basically a long-sleeved top under my playing shirt, as soon as I can get one on. I generally change it at half-time as well, and as soon as I stop moving I get freezing. I'm a heavy sweater as well, so as soon as I do a little bit of running, I'm soaking.

Cold aside, it will be nice to be involved in a squad that's in the Six Nations. It's a long, long way from where I thought I'd ever get to in rugby, if I'm honest.

I never really thought, 'I want to play for England'. That's sort of a given, really, when you play rugby.

But I didn't ever really think I'd get there. My goals tended to be far more fundamental, in terms of wanting to get a contract at the end of the season, or to be able to pay my bills.

Some people get groomed into that 'England' way of thinking, by playing in the Under-16s, 18s, 20s and so on. But when you haven't had any of that, it's just a case of making sure you enjoy your rugby, and if you are sure you want to make a career of it, that you can pay your way.

When you get in the shop window, as in, say, England Saxons, then you're only realistically a few games away from catching the attention. It can all seem a really long way away, and then all of a sudden it's right in front of you.

I think when you're in the Premiership, and your team's doing well, you've always got a chance. And the way I've come into it proves the system does work; that they have got their eyes outside of the top four.

Before all that, though, we have our final Heineken Cup group match against Leinster to look forward to.

We were upset about the score in France, against Clermont, last weekend, where we had our moments and felt we started the game reasonably well. But once they got their first try, they were just unstoppable for a period.

Certainly the crowd were unbelievable over there. There was a point in the first half when we were down in one of the corners and the ref was trying to call the scrum. We just couldn't hear him, so he started screaming and we just managed to engage, but it was just so loud.

I don't think the second-rows could hear him even then. Mind you it's not easy to hear at the best of times when you've got your head between someone's legs.

The experience proved that Clermont are exactly the sort of team you want to be playing against if you're going to progress. They have to be one of the favourites to win the competition, I reckon.

On the other hand, it looks like Leinster might even miss out in our group, so there's a huge incentive for us to perform against them on Saturday.

We felt a bit hard done by following the 9-6 defeat up there, and it will be our last Heineken Cup game, certainly until we know what's going on next season, so there's plenty of reasons for us to want to put in a really big performance in front of our fans at home.

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