New-look Ashley ready for Oz
Ashley Johnson with slightly shorter locks (Gallo Images)
Sydney - Ashley Johnson admitted at his first media conference as a Test Springbok that it's quite intimidating to prepare yourself for a match in the Cheetahs' dressing room in Bloemfontein.
"There, next to your number and jersey, are the names of all the players who played in that jersey before you. In my last few games for the Cheetahs I have had to step into the shoes of guys like André Venter, Rassie Erasmus and Juan Smith. You can't do anything else than lift your game," says the 25-year-old loose forward as he looks you straight in the eye.
His eyes are clearly visible because scissors have been applied to his mop of hair.
"I just decided that it's time for a haircut. It had nothing to do with being picked for the Boks. It was just time," says Johnson.
He will be making his Test debut on Saturday after defeats in tour matches against the Leicester Tigers and Saracens on the 2009 end-of-season tour.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers never lost faith in the skilful player.
"Ashley is a classic No 8 for me. He can get over the advantage line with his driving play and take you forward, and then he forms the ideal link between forwards and backs," De Villiers explained the selection.
However, there have been a number of dark clouds since those bright moments at Welford Road (Leicester) and Wembley Stadium (London).
"I had to ask questions of myself because Coach Naka (Drotské) was completely right in his assessment that I was too inconsistent to start every Super Rugby match for the Cheetahs," said Johnson.
"I had to go and work harder and that is why it's a good feeling to be here now. Saturday will be a special day and it will require a special effort.
"Danie (Rossouw) and Deon (Stegmann) know Test rugby and I just have to fall in if we want to make the combination work. I have played some good rugby of late for the Cheetahs, but you really feel good upon returning to the change room and realising that it's the standard when you see those names."
Meanwhile, two members of the Springbok touring team of 1981, Flip van der Merwe and Gysie Pienaar, have sons in Saturday's Test, with Flip (jr.) and Ruan playing lock and scrumhalf respectively.
Johnson, however, has every right to be equally proud of his father, Archie.
Archie Johnson was a top-notch tighthead prop for the SA Federation team (SA Proteas) and may have been a Springbok in a different era.
Johnson (Sr.) played for the Federation team from 1984 until 1990. He played against England in 1984 and against the South Sea Barbarians in 1988.Teams
15 Gio Aplon, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 John Smit, 1 Dean Greyling
Substitutes: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 Patrick Lambie
15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu
Substitutes: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Nathan Sharpe, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Anthony Faingaa