Johnson's fairytale rise

2009-11-05 18:05

Johannesburg - Springbok number eight Ashley Johnson sports a mop of black hair that makes him look more like a 1970s pop musician than a rugby union footballer.

But when he runs on to the Welford Road home of Leicester Tigers on Friday for the first of five South African matches on a tour of Europe it will complete another chapter in a fairytale rise up the ladder toward stardom.

A couple of months ago Johnson, 23, was turning out for Northern Free State Griffons before the proverbial two men and a dog in the second tier of the Currie Cup inter-provincial championship.

An injury crisis at elite-division outfit Free State Cheetahs ushered a dramatic change in fortunes for the player who jokingly says life is so hectic he does not have time for a haircut.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske, a former Bok hooker, needed someone in the middle of his front row and placed Johnson there, believing he was too short and heavy for the number eight slot.

However, as the injury crisis spread, Johnson found him at the rear of the line-out instead of throwing the ball in, and it is there that he caught the eye of Bok coach Peter de Villiers.

Leicester, beware! This retreaded hooker is a formidable force when he moves into overdrive, brushing off opponents with gay abandon as the Afro mop flies in all directions.

"I am not the fancy-rugby type," admits the man who defends his unusual hairstyle by claiming there are no good barbers in Bloemfontein.

"I enjoy playing a direct game, carrying the ball and bashing people out of the way. My role for the Cheetahs was to develop forward momentum and get us over the advantage line," he said before heading for England.

"Facing Leicester is a one-off chance as I do not know how much game time I'm going to get on tour. I'm starting this Friday but maybe I'll only get 30 minutes against Saracens or nothing at all."

Facing the Tigers in a den extended to 24 000 seats by the opening of a new stand completes a memorable week for Johnson, one of three uncapped forwards in the Bok starting line-up.

Last Saturday he was his usual hyperactive self in the Cheetahs team beaten by the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup final after a brave comeback petered out in the closing stages.

But the disappointment of falling at the final hurdle was softened within 30 minutes as his name was among 20 forwards and 17 backs chosen to face Leicester and Saracens plus Tests against France, Italy and Ireland.


  • Marc Borg - 2009-11-05 18:25

    This is a joke, how can this guy be picked over Duane Vermuelen? Whatever...

  • Albert - 2009-11-05 18:49

    Hou maar vir Ashley Johnson dop in die toekoms. Hy gaan nog 'n superster raak.

  • Fleckie - 2009-11-05 19:01

    Marc i agree wit u, this oak isn't bad but Vermuelen is beta and would b more suited to the nhemisphere conditions, but we all no why Maku, Chilli, Heinie ect are there.

  • Ronnie - 2009-11-05 19:22

    Good luck Ashley...I agree with Albert..You certainly have what it takes to become a legend..Just keep your feet on the ground.

  • blackshark - 2009-11-05 19:24

    Johnson has many fairytales growing on his head! Just look at the twinkle in his eye...he must be soooo proud of his inclusion in the Bok team!

  • Marius - 2009-11-05 19:41

    A one season wonder who got lucky. In a year's time will he have disappeared into obscurity.

  • Andre - 2009-11-05 20:39

    From the first time I saw this young man play I knew he's going to be a star. Watch this space ...

  • Uncle - 2009-11-05 21:00

    I'm SO glad Spies got "injured"...

  • groucho marx - 2009-11-05 21:33

    Can someone give Marius a happy pill? It's detractors such as him that sew the seeds of division with such baseless drivel they want to pass off as opinion. I sincerely hope that young Johnson realises his obvious talent given the opportunity presented to him. I suppose you know a tad more about rugby and selection other than the coach of the year, hey Marius. May your ignorance not blind you much longer.

  • Ams - 2009-11-06 00:24

    Even though he played very well in the Currie Cup, I tend to think that we might be seeing another Kabamba Floors-situation - a one hit wonder. But hopefully my cynicism is proved wrong. I hope all these young players do well. Rest assured that those who do not belong there will fall out...somewhere along the line.

  • Paul - 2009-11-06 06:43

    @Uncle - for what reason? top no 8 in the country, ball carrier of note, speed that wings wish they had and a force to be rekoned with.... shame you must also be one of those poor souls who feel cheated in the Currie Cup....dont cry now.... good luck to Ashley, good time to be in the mix. Springboks no matter win or loose will always carry the flag high and be proud to be part of the game!!

  • Rugby fan - 2009-11-06 06:46

    @Marius, why would you wish bad luck to a young talented player. Grow up. You are one of those guys who just write bad commenta about non white players. Get use to the fact that not only whites can play rugby.

  • LN - 2009-11-06 07:10

    I'm a blue bulls man and spies is my man but... Ashley has heaps of talent and as Ronnie mentioned if he keeps his feet on the ground he can become a legend indeed...@Marius. Jeez man, lets give the guy a chance before we start slating him

  • Fi5 - 2009-11-06 08:14

    Don't get me wrong,I like Johnson, but for goodness Ashley, when the ball gets to your feet at the scrum, don't wait an eternity to pick it up like you did in the final

  • Marius - 2009-11-06 09:49

    @ Rugbyfan. I am not wishing bad luck on any player. I have just seen so many players who have been touted as stars in their first season, only to disappear two yeras later once the opposition had a good look at them. The element of surprise only lasts one season. It is easy to have a good first season. If he can be just as good in his second season , then you can start talking about a future star. It is the guys who struggle to get that first cap that eventually becomes the real stars, because they continiously work at their game to get in. Fourie du Preez is a great example of this. Watch Morne Steyn too. It took him 2 years just to become the first choice flyhalf at the Bulls and look at the way he developed his own skills during those 2 years through determination and hard work. He wanted the Springbok no.10 jersey and worked hard to get it and now that he has it, he will make sure that he keeps it. It is the players who receive their caps on a platter that normally disappear within 2 years.

  • Grill - 2009-11-06 10:11

    Johnson definitely deserves his spot in the side. Had a much better season than Vermuelen. What happened to Duane when he moved down to CT, seems to have lost his passion. What is sad in SA is that quotas in sport have made people question every selection. This guy has so much talent and had a terrific season but you will still get people saying it's a quota selection. Stop picking the likes of Rose, Maku, Raubenheimer, Januarie etc. there are plenty "quota" players who are good enough to play! Go Bokke!!

  • Say what... - 2009-11-06 10:28

    I like this guy and who thought he could move so fast when he wants to, plus he gives fat kids street cred.

  • RHOBOK - 2009-11-06 12:00

    Look, I like this guy Johnson. A real talent. But poor Willem Alberts! He is by miles our next best No.8 after Spies. Better season in S14 and CC than both Kankowsky or Vermuelen (not at his best with WP). Got to feel sorry for Alberts not getting a look in.

  • HAHA! - 2009-11-06 12:02

    Sure mate sure! Do YOU really believe your “rise” has anything to do with your ability!? Dream on, you will never be good enough to play International rugby on merit. I wonder if this “affirmative action selections” is not giving a part of their “salaries” to the ANC. F....g joke!

  • Please cut.... - 2009-11-06 12:04

    Please cut your hair, you look like ship!

  • Zee - 2009-11-06 12:20

    @Fleckie - during the season people moaned that Ricky J was cr@p and that Heinie should have been there in his place. Now he is there and he is quota too - you will just NEVER be satisfied will you?! Have some frikking faith in the side for goodness sake - PdV has proved you wrong once, I'm hoping he does it again and again.

  • HAHA's ASS - 2009-11-06 13:17

    HAHA!, yr such a chop... What game have u been watching dude? Ash Johnson has put most others to shame this season... Watch that space going forward...

  • Mr. X - 2009-11-06 14:16

    Ashley is 'n uitstekende speler. Die van julle wat se hy hoort nie in die span nie weet nie veel van rugby af nie. Ek volg hom al van skool af en hy mag maar rugby speel!

  • @RHOBOK - 2009-11-06 15:06

    Most accurate statement on this page. Thank you!!

  • Gtr - 2009-11-06 16:33

    Rhobok, I totally aggree. Willem Alberts is quite good. The Sharks bought him... Kanko will have to lift his game.

  • Sakkie Supporter - 2009-11-07 09:32

    It is mindblowingly sad to see how little the average SA rugby supporters knows about rugby and the players. Ashley Johnson is by far not a one-season-wonder. He was the first non-white captain of Paarl Gimnasium. Played WP under 19 and earlier age groups. He was selected by De Villiers to captain the Southern Spears - at age 19. Played for South Africa under 21. Naka wanted to chenge him into a hooker. Lastly, if De Villiers and Co really want to keep the quota numbers in tact, stop looking at Chilli and Maku (Strauss and Liebenberg are better) and start looking at loosies like Ashley and Mpho Mboyiso (spelling?). Ashley is in any case better captain material than Chilli. Ashley will become a superstar.

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