James Johnston, Harlequins’ 2012 Premiership title-winning tighthead prop, has decided to continue his career in France, clinching a deal for the 2020/21 season with Richard Hill’s Rouen in the Pro D2. The 34-year-old former Samoan international was released last month by Brive after three seasons.

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He initially moved to France from England in 2017 after eight seasons in the Premiership, four of them at Harlequins before follow-up stints at Saracens and Worcester.

His achievements at Quins came in handy as Johnston reportedly came highly recommended to Rouen by John Kingston, who worked under Conor O’Shea when the Londoners beat Leicester to win their first ever English top-flight title. 

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Speaking in L’Equipe, Hill, the 1991 England World Cup scrum-half, said: “His strong point is the fray. He is strong and dynamic. He is also able to advance with the ball.

“He moves a lot around the pitch and is also very strong on the ground to fight for the ball. When the Harlequins won the championship, he was one of the best players. John Kingston, the team coach at the time, confirmed to me that he was a very good player and a good person.”

Johnston isn’t Rouen’s only prop signing from Brive as they have also snapped up Georgian Karlen Asieshvili, their 14th signing in an extensive recruitment drive that also includes the signature of Lyon’s Carl Fearns. 

Newly promoted to Pro D2 in 2019/20 following years on the Federal circuit, an adventure beautifully captured by Ben Mercer in his chart-topping Life on the Fringes book, Rouen struggled in the French second-tier and were in the relegation zone when the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic outbreak. 

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They have now strengthened considerably ahead of the new campaign, Antoine Frisch and Marvin Woki, two ex-Stade Francais players, among the influx. 

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