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Census Johnston: 'Too many get lost in the systems after footy'

By Liam Heagney
Census Johnston lifts the Bouclier de Brennus after Toulouse's 2011 title win (Photo by Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images)

Census Johnston could be in the headlines soon enough. Speaking to RugbyPass at a recent charity launch in London, the retired front-row talisman let slip that he had been contacted about a role that he wasn’t yet sure about accepting.

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We’d say with who expect a message came back over an hour later through a representative that he would prefer if we didn’t mention who he had approached. Watch this space, then. As it stands, his coaching career is showing potential.

After a glittering career in Europe that included packing down with Toulouse for eight seasons as well as stints at Biarritz, Saracens, Racing and finally Bayonne where he called it quits in 2020 at the age of 39, you’ll find Johnston settled back in Auckland and assisting the Blues women’s team to recent Super Rugby Aupiki success.

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After being for so long invested in the men’s code, the switch has been refreshing and his face lit up when asked to shine a light on the women’s game. “Such a good product,” enthused the scrum expert.

“The girls, they want information, they want every detail and it’s hard to understand their preparation because they prepare so differently the guys. Like, you don’t know whether they are going into a game or a disco dance because that is how they prepare, they want to be happy and when they go onto the field it translates.

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“I feel like the product is good because the girls are more genuine; they play off the cuff, they are not too structured. There are structures in place but they are able to express themselves and the amount of quality in our team is just out the gate. I really enjoy the women’s game, really good to watch and real good people.”

It was 2017 when Johnston stepped away from international rugby as a 60-cap veteran, 57 for Samoa and three more for the Pacific Islands amalgam that toured in the mid-to-late noughties. He’d love to see the Samoans up their game.

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“I’ve followed it the last couple of years and still feel there needs to be a bit of development in Samoa in general. There is absolutely no players coming through because there has been no funding but also the quality of coaches in islands is just non-existent.” That’s a fiery view at odds with the powers that be.

“A lot of players who have come off (playing) the last couple of years want to get involved now. So at the moment, we have got Mahonri Schwalger (as the new national team head coach), but also Alesana Tuilagi running the academies now. That is really important for Samoa to improve over the next couple of years.”

The reason why Johnston was in London was his role as one of 10 founder members of Global Rugby Players Foundation, the newly launched organisation looking to help smooth the transition for players finishing up playing and moving on to other careers.

“Dan (Carter) called me about a year ago and asked me to get involved. He mentioned who was getting involved and I jumped at the opportunity because of the calibre of players, but also I felt there was a need for a support system for our Pacific people. There are too many that get lost in the systems after footy and this is just my opportunity to give back to my people.”

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Johnston counts himself lucky in that ‘moving on’ regard. “I had been looking forward for my last couple of years; I already knew that I was finishing. I was lucky enough to play until I was 39 so yeah, although it was tough I made sure my mind we focused on other things outside footy.”

Like? “Driving my kids around and making sure they turn up to sport on time and do their homework.” Well said.

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