Brian Bernard Johnson
- 391Wallaby Number
In 1953 renowned rugby writer Eddie Kann wrote of Brian Johnson: ‘Unquestionably the greatest lock forward Rugby Union has produced since the war’. A peerless cover-defender of exceptional pace and a deadly front-on tackler, Johnson was a backrower of the highest quality who shone during his short international career of the early to mid-1950s.
Born at Coffs Harbour on the northern coast of New South Wales, Johnson was also the younger brother of Paul (Wallaby #329). Little is known of Johnson’s early years however the family did move to Sydney before the end of the war where Brian was educated at Christian Brothers High School, St Mary’s Cathedral.
Johnson was a newcomer to the Gordon club in 1949. He made his First grade debut in the opening round against Eastwood, ‘played brilliantly’ and scored a try. In that year’s final, Johnson buried Easts fly half and future Wallaby Murray Tate all afternoon to lead Gordon into the decider against University, which they won 12-3, to claim the club’s first ever premiership. Two years later Johnson was chosen for the annual North v. South, ‘Blow’ Ide Memorial Match, otherwise known as the trial for New South Wales selection. Keith Cross started at No.8 in each of the four interstate clashes however in the final match Johnson came in for the great Col Windon at flanker.In 1952, Johnson’s form was so compelling that he was selected to make his Test debut, out of position at blindside flanker, against Fiji. His covering tackles on giant winger Jo Levula were described as ‘never to be forgotten’. He then toured New Zealand and despite having missed several rounds of Shute Shield due to his Wallaby commitments still managed to win the Fairfax Cup as the Sunday Herald’s Best and Fairest player. The following season he was one of the first picked to tour South Africa only to be inexplicably left out of the first Test team as the selectors opted for size to combat the giant Springbok pack. That tactic proved disastrous and Australia were humbled 3-25. Two weeks later, and with Johnson recalled at No.8, the Wallabies won 18-14 to inflict South Africa’s first defeat since 1938. Johnson played ‘the game of his life’, despite having to move out to the right wing following an injury to captain John Solomon, and Australia recorded what was called its ‘greatest victory in the history of Rugby Union football.’ Following the series Springbok captain Hennie Muller selected Johnson, alongside Eddie Stapleton, as the only Australians in his World XV, chosen from internationals against whom he played.
In 1954, Johnson tore a ligament in his left knee playing for Gordon against University and was unavailable for the two Test home series against Fiji. Johnson returned to club football only to re-injure the knee and was then advised to sit out the remainder of the season. A year later Johnson played his final two Tests on the 1955 tour of New Zealand before he gave the game away and headed to New Guinea to run a coffee plantation but tragically lost his life in an unfortunate accident aged just 36 years.
Brian Johnson played nine Tests for Australia in a four-year international career.
Johnson won his first Test cap on the side of scrum in combination with Col Windon and ‘Slaggy’ Miller in the 1st Test, 15-9 victory over Fiji in Sydney. He scored his first Test try in that match to become the 35th Wallaby to score a try on debut. Two weeks later Johnson retained his place, along with both Windon and Miller, for the second Test of the series. Johnson was also capped in both Tests of the tour to New Zealand, the first at No.8 and the second on the flank. In the opening Test at Lancaster Park he returned after being carried from the field with a concussion to play a major part in Australia’s triumphant 14-9 victory.
Johnson started at No.8 in the final three Tests of the four international tour of South Africa. In the second Test of the series Australia fought back from a 3-14 deficit in the final half hour to record a famous win. Johnson, who had moved from the back of the scrum to the wing after captain John Solomon was injured, scored the Wallabies’ third try after he confused the great Springbok fullback Johnny Buchler with his extraordinary change of pace.
Johnson was overlooked for the two Test home series against Fiji as he recovered from a torn ligament in his left knee.
In what was his final season of international rugby Johnson earned caps in the opening two Tests of the tour to New Zealand before he was a ‘shock omission’ for the victorious 8-3, 3rd Test at Eden Park. In a decision that puzzled fans, especially after the backrow ‘had played splendidly in both the first and second Tests’, ‘Mac Hughes’ shifted to No.8 and Keith Cross was promoted to flanker.