The New England Free Jacks signed Joe Johnston through the 2022 Major League Rugby season. The 22-year-old back-row is 6’2″ and 225 lbs.
Joe is Whakatane, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, but is eligible to play for the United States through his mother, who was born and raised in Boston.
He attended Kings College during his last two years of high school in 2015 and 2016 and helped the Auckland Boys’ School to a top-four national finish in 2015 and captaining the side in his final year.
Johnston’s performances placed him on the national radar and in 2016 he was selected to the New Zealand Schools Barbarians side, which he captained in the Trans-Tasman shield competition, which was coached by incoming Free Jacks Head Coach, Ryan Martin. The Barbarians side went undefeated, knocking over both Australian and Fijian Schools in the process.
Joe captained the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Under 19s squad in 2017. This led to his signing his first professional contract with Bay of Plenty for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He has only made a single appearance for ‘the Bay’ to date coming off the bench in the side’s 46-10 win over Manawatu, but can be expected to see more valuable game time in the current season.
Johnston said it was always his intention to return home to the Bay of Plenty. “I never really saw myself going anywhere else really. I always saw myself going to Auckland and then coming back home. It is nice and familiar here, I know a lot of people here and it’s close to home.”
Johnston signed for the China Lions for the 2020 season, a side formed as a joint venture between Bay of Plenty and China Rugby Football Association that competes in Global Rapid Rugby. The season ended prematurely due to Covid-19, however, Joe had an outstanding performance in the back row in a 29-22 win over Fijian Latui at ANZ Stadium in Fiji.
Joe was honored in 2019 with the Ngāwhā Player of the Year Award.
New England Free Jacks Comments
The Outstanding Loose Forward is Eligible to Play for the United States Through Johnston’s Mother
“I’m really excited to be heading over to the New England Free Jacks,” said Johnston. “Boston is where my Mum grew up and where my Dad, who’s a kiwi, spent some time playing for Beacon Hill Rugby Club. I’m looking forward to meeting distant family and friends from Boston and fully immersing myself in the culture of the team.”
“Joe ‘The Mechanic’ Johnston is a very intelligent flanker with an endless motor,” said Free Jacks Head Coach, Ryan Martin. “Joe’s ability to turn the ball over at the breakdown through his physicality and game sense is second to none. A highly motivated professional with quality leadership skills, Joe will be great for us in New England.”
Johnston is most comfortable at 7 given his breakdown expertise, but due to his size and skill set, equally comfortable across the back row when required. Expect meticulous performances from the Bay of Plenty product this coming season.
Join Joe and the Free Jacks for a virtual meet and greet, “News and Brews,” this Thursday, September 10th. Grab a Free Jacks IPA and join the virtual gathering and get to know the newest Free Jacks and the returning players. RSVP using the link here: https://www.freejacks.com/news-and-brews/.