‘Player Profile’ is the name that we’ve stuck to player analysis pieces that feature up and coming youngsters playing for Munster.
Unfortunately, with the exception of Jack O’Donoghue, our player profiles have been a kiss of death to every single player that has featured, with Brian Haugh, Luke O’Dea, Darren Moroney and Paddy Butler all being released from the Munster set up within the same season as our articles. However, we’ve decided to make a return with the profile pieces anyway due to popular demand – so hopefully that trend comes to an end!
Last week we wrote up about John Madigan to kick-start our column on our website and it provoked a very positive reaction. On the back of that, we have decide to account for another very exciting Munster youngster – this time Rockwell’s Bill Johnston
Player Profile and Analysis of Bill Johnston
Club: Clonmel RFC
Bill Johnston was a star of the Munster Schools Senior Cup last season as he kicked Rockwell to ultimate glory in Spring. The Tipperary man is younger brother of current Munster academy utility back David Johnston. Like his brother, as a result of the promise that he showed at youth levels, Munster signed him up for the sub-academy without hesitation.
Since being snapped up, Johnston has actually barely had a chance to mingle with his fellow teenagers as Anthony Foley and Co. have been ever so keen on the hard-working kicker, meaning that he has trained with the Munster seniors and hence played big roles in both of the province’s pre-season games this August.
Crucially however, not only has he played, but he has impressed.
In Munster’s two games against Grenoble and Connacht, Johnston has accumulated a total of 80 minutes, which has been more than enough for him to stand out, even amongst first-team regulars.
Firstly we shall analyse his debut performance, in terms of delivery and creativity.
After half an hour against Bernard Jackman’s French outfit Grenoble, Johnston would come in to confidently and comfortably fit into the team as Tyler Bleyendaal came off with a precautionary injury. The 18 year old’s introduction came earlier than expected but expectations were only truly blown out of the water by the passing play that would follow.
With scrum-half Cathal Sheridan and the pack also on top form, snappy delivery was provided but to his credit, the manner in which he took advantage of such a luxury was perhaps his most promising feature.
Johnston was exceptional whenever he got his hands on the ball, providing technically brilliant delivery for inside centre Matt D’Arcy. His movement and timing was Munster’s primary source of creativity all evening on the season opener, allowing his outside man to take the man of the match award.
The following weekend against Connacht much of the same ability was put out for all to see in much tougher and tighter affair. JJ Hanrahan may have left a void but it might be filled a lot sooner than we anticipated as the similar flair and confidence flows through our latest prodigy.
Many young players have natural ability, but you will always find that talent is never enough to make the cut at the top level for an outhalf. This is why the most reassuring and exciting viewing of young Johnston was watching him bark orders at him teammates and demand the ball from his experienced colleagues.
Anthony Foley and the players seem to share a similar view of the importance of this:
“I think once you work with a guy like that, you understand that he’s a fella that has a lot of ability, a lot of maturity around him for an 18-year-old,”
“He’s a fella that has automatically grown confident within the group. The players are raving about him, so that’s a good sign for an 18-year-old. He knows his place within the group and works hard.
The mixture of cockiness and hard working attitude evident here is something that Munster have not possessed since the retirement of Ronan O’Gara which would suggest that big things are sure to follow for Johnston if he continues with this mentality.
Such confidence carries through his attacking intent and has lead to the Clonmel man making big decisions without delay as we have already seen him back himself to get through a gap or to kick in behind opposing wingers in search of the touchline.
After the two highly charismatic showings, Munster fans have barely been able to keep their eagerness to see more of young Johnston contained. The more he plays, the more he will improve by the looks of things but just how far do we think he will go?
Munster must learn from their mistakes in the handling of another Rockwell man, JJ Hanrahan and give Johnston sufficient game-time in the Pro 12 to grow and develop. Once this is achieved, playing it safe will never be for the best if we are not relying on a European quality ten ahead in the pecking order by the time he reaches the standard of the Champions Cup.
Play Johnston and he will become a vital member of Munster’s future. Anthony Foley should be credited for handing him the chance but in later years, the fact is that learning from mistakes is crucial for any coach. If Anthony Foley does not learn from previous errors and fails to have the nerve to back a youngster in big fixtures however, he should leave the province and so should Johnston just like the Rockwell outhalf before him.
Fortunately though, early indications are suggesting that Axel and everyone involved is a fan of the man’s work to date. We too are part of that fan club and dare to expect to see Bill wear his countries colours someday if all goes well. Good luck with everything from all at Munster Haka.
Thanks for reading