England’s Johnson playing catch up already

England star Tom Johnson has admitted that he is already playing “catch-up” on his Exeter Chiefs team-mates after reporting back this week for Premiership pre-season training.

The 32-year-old, along with new signing Moray Low, have been granted extended leave after they were both involved in summer tours with England and Scotland respectively.

Refreshed and revived, however, the duo are now back in harness alongside their team-mates as the countdown to the new 2014/15 season continues.

For Johnson, tackling the demands of an Exeter pre-season programme is nothing new and he says the work put in now by Rob Baxter’s squad is key to how the club will fare during the demands of both Aviva Premiership and European action.

“I’ve had a really enjoyable summer, especially going to New Zealand and facing up to the Haka and the All Blacks,” said Johnson.

“It was a real experience to do that and tackle all that culture and what that represents to the New Zealand people, but now it’s nice to be back with the boys here in Exeter and getting down to the hard work. Right now they are flying, so I’ve got a bit of catching up to do.”

The majority of the Chiefs squad are now into week five of their pre-season programme, but such is the nature of the modern-day game even in his down time, Johnson has been working hard to ensure his fitness levels remain to a high standard.

And with a new season and a Rugby World Cup both on the agenda, Johnson knows it’s vital he hits the new campaign firing on all cylinders.

He added: “The World Cup is on the horizon, but like with any season it starts now with pre-season. The Premiership is such a tough league these days, you can’t afford to be not at your best. The hard work has already begun for all the guys because you know every week in this division is going to be a battle. We’ve got London Welsh first up and we know how tough that will be for us, that’s why it’s crucial we get ourselves into the best shape possible now.”

Indeed, newly-promoted Welsh will offer a stiff challenge to the Chiefs in their opening league game of the season at the Kassam Stadium on Sunday, September 7.

Johnson is well aware from past experiences that the Exiles – who claimed their first-ever Premiership win against the Chiefs two seasons ago – will be a tough nut to crack first up.

“They’re a very good side,” explained Johnson. “We know that not just from that one year in the Premiership, but also from the times we played them in the past in the Championship. They’ve got some very good players up there and they’ve obviously recruited very well this summer. Right now, though, everybody is in the same boat, everybody is being put through their paces and working hard, so it will be a good test to see where we are.”

With a familiar feel to the Chiefs squad, Johnson says the introduction of a handful of new faces merely adds to the jovial mood around the place.

He said: “There seems a really good vibe around the squad at the moment. It’s competitive, as you’d expect, but it’s friendly as well. A large number of the group have been together for a long time now, but it’s always nice to have some fresh faces come into the ranks and offer something different.

“For me, personally, I’ve not set any real major targets at this stage other than I need to target getting in and around the squad for the first game. To do that, I know have to get my head down, work hard and do my best. Obviously there are a lot of other guys thinking exactly the same, so it should be a good battle for places.”

Johnson is aware every player will be keen to lay down their marker during the upcoming pre-season games against Cardiff Blues, Ulster and Worcester Warriors, but he believes the three games will give the Chiefs the perfect platform to take into the season.

“We’ve got three really tough games to contend with in pre-season, but as players you want to know whe

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