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CAMPELL Johnstone issues warning on playing in France

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: December 13, 2012

By Mark Orders

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CAMPBELL Johnstone wants anyone who's interested to know — life for a rugby player in France isn't all croissants, vin rouge, sightseeing and raking in the euros.

Those who venture over there with their boots are expected to work a bit as well.

The Ospreys' newest recruit should know, having spent four seasons with Biarritz before departing in the summer.

And in what could be seen as a warning to Welsh players who have been linked to moves to France, among them Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate and Dan Biggar, Johnstone reckons anyone under the age of 28 should steer clear of the hard school of knocks that is the Top 14.

Treadmill

His words chime with Warren Gatland's message that the gruelling treadmill of top-tier French rugby, starting in August and finishing in June, is no easy ride.

"I would agree with Warren but then the lifestyle in France is fantastic if you can get though all the training," said the former Crusader.

"I wouldn't advise anyone to go to France until they are 28 or 29.

"It's a different mentality. There's a lot of blaming of players and, if you are not that thick-skinned, it will affect you."

He continued: "Over there, they have a product and the gates and the teams to go with it. Individually, they are very skilled and strong guys.

"But French rugby is a war of attrition.

"For a forward it's probably the toughest challenge, and particularly for someone who plays in the tight five. It's a very hard, forward-orientated game. It's pretty tough."

For Johnstone, it was almost a case of back in the old routine last weekend as he found himself up against a gnarled French club pack wanting to scrummage him into the ground and then a bit more.

Invitation

The previous week he had been helping to coach students in Spain, at Vigo University, when the invitation came to join the Ospreys and head straight into a Heineken Cup encounter against Toulouse.

It was almost like being called out of semi-retirement to run a 10,000-metre race against Mo Farah.

But Johnstone took up the region's offer and amazingly lasted a stamina-sapping 78 minutes before giving way to Dimitri Arhip. It wasn't just a testimony to how he has looked after himself; it also said much about his character.

"I think they just wanted to blow out all the cobwebs in the system," he laughed.

"My lungs were bursting — I was that tired. But it was good."

He continued: "It was a surprise when I got the call but the Ospreys were desperate after all the injuries they had at prop so it happened quickly.

"I was pretty much on holiday and it was by chance really they found me. I thought playing against French clubs was all over then I find I'm playing against Toulouse twice in a row."

Johnstone made three appearances for New Zealand, two of them against the Lions in 2005, and played 80 times for Biarritz.

After barely a week at the Ospreys, he has already been impressed by the way they do things, saying they are streets ahead of sides in the Top 14.

"If you compare them to a French club, the Ospreys are 60 to 70 per cent better in terms of the professionalism, the attitude and the organisation in general," said Johnstone.

"There's no comparison. There's more responsibility taken and a lot more player awareness and monitoring of players."

Johnstone will be on the front-line in Swansea on Saturday as the Ospreys try to avenge their defeat in Toulouse. "I'm just hoping there isn't a tight-head jinx here, otherwise I'm in trouble," he quipped. The Ospreys will hope so, too.

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