SAM JOHNSON may have cheered Australia’s controversial last-gasp win which broke Scotland’s hearts at the 2015 World Cup, but there is no mistaking where his loyalties lie these days.

He still speaks with an Australian accent, and has the off-field appearance and demeanour of a surfer fresh off a Queensland beach. But he is now firmly established as an adopted Scot, with his sensational try which briefly put the boys in blue ahead against England in March raising his reputation to folk hero status.

“I am a different person to the one I was four years ago,” he chuckles, after recounting how he watched that infamous Scotland versus Australia game alone in a flat in Glasgow soon after arriving in the city. “I was just this kid who had come from Australia, so I was cheering for Australia. I did not know any better. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know anybody [in Scotland] back then.”

Johnson had predominantly played rugby league during his formative years, but after switching to the 15-man code when he was 21 and making a couple of appearances off the bench for Queensland Reds, he accepted an approach to join Glasgow. Gregor Townsend, pictured, was head coach at the Warriors in those days and had been impressed by footage of his sharp running lines and tidy handling, but the player didn’t fit in straight away. He arrived with a shoulder injury and once that had cleared up he made five starts and five appearances off the bench during his debut season – but hardly spoke a word to anyone.

He didn’t yet have the physique of a professional athlete and struggled with the defensive side of the game. But Townsend saw enough to believe there was good reason to persevere – and that faith has been rewarded.

“It just took me a bit of time to adjust,” reflects Johnson. “Like anybody does at 21 or 22, it takes a while, but because Glasgow had such a good management team, they did a really good job of turning around guys like me who had just played a bit of muck-around footie into being ready to play on the big stage.

“You grow up a bit don’t you? You realise it is a professional sport and something you don’t just muck around with and play at the weekend. The biggest thing is the professionalism.”

Johnson qualified to play for Scotland through the three-year residency rule ahead of last summer’s tour to the Americas but missed out on the chance of a cap due to a knee injury. He was then concussed through the November Test series meaning that it wasn’t until the Six Nations this year that he made his debut.

Despite Scotland’s stuttering start to the championship, Johnson had looked comfortable at that level, so it was a surprise when he was dropped for the Wales match. However, he bounced back with a big performance in that crazy finale against England, and after two more appearances during the World Cup warm-up schedule he seems certain to wear the No.12 jersey in Scotland’s tournament opener against Ireland on Sunday.

His opposite number will be Bundee Aki, but who will be outside the powerful New Zealander in the Irish No.13 jersey is less clear cut. Robbie Henshaw will miss the game due to a hamstring injury meaning it is a toss-up between Chris Farrell and Garry Ringrose.

“They are two very different players,” says Johnson. “Ringrose uses his agility around the pitch to break tackles whereas Farrell is probably more of a direct runner. They are both really good operators. I probably shouldn’t be saying it but I probably prefer the bigger player running more directly.”

Ireland are the world’s No.1- ranked team and have come out on top in six of the last seven outings against Scotland. Johnson played in the last match between the two sides – a 22-13 defeat at Murrayfield – so he has an idea of what is coming.

“We’re expecting a hugely physical encounter, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the flair out wide to break you on the edges,” he says. “But we’re in a different country now so I think that levels out the playing field. We’ll see what the conditions are like this weekend, I think the forecast is for rain. It will be one of those ones when whoever rocks up the best and is ready to play might come out on top.

“A lot of their work comes off [Conor] Murray with [Johnny] Sexton orchestrating from in behind. I think their kicking game is going to be a huge strength for them, especially if the weather is going to be wet. So, we’ve just got to put as much pressure on their half-back pairing as we can.

“We’ll deal with the threats that are in front of us and have a crack.”