BILL'S PROUD MOMENT: Wollongbar-Alstonville rugby union player Bill Johnston (right) pictured with USA Eagles player Todd Cleaver in Aspen.
BILL'S PROUD MOMENT: Wollongbar-Alstonville rugby union player Bill Johnston (right) pictured with USA Eagles player Todd Cleaver in Aspen. Contributed

From Pioneers to Aspen Gentleman

WOLLONGBAR-Alstonville rugby union player Bill Johnston has never been one to turn down an opportunity to play the game overseas.

However, his recent trip where he played at Aspen in Colorado's Rocky Mountains has probably been the most unusual.

Aspen is predominantly known as a ski resort town but once a year it turns into a festival of rugby union.

He had only just won a Far North Coast rugby union grand final with the Pioneers before hopping on a plane and heading to the United States two days later.

"It was a unique opportunity to go to a place like Aspen to play in a rugby tournament,” Johnston said.

"I had a friend from Sydney that lined it up and there was four of us playing in the Gentleman of Aspen team.

"Teams come from all over North America and the town was booked out with rugby players.”

Johnston, 30, has played for the Australian Barbarians in the past and was also part of the Western Force when they first came into Super Rugby.

He has played alongside the likes of Brad Clyde, Brad Fittler and Andrew Johns when he joined the trio in the World Rugby Classic at Bermuda in 2013.

The team included a mix of former rugby league and rugby union players with Danny Buderus, Andrew Walker, Garrick Morgan and Steve Kefu also in the team.

Johnston also played in the Australian Legends team which took on the England Legends in a one-off game at Twickenham that same year.

He played in a team which included Al Baxter, Stirling Mortlock, Ryan Cross and Clyde.

The English side was made up of the bulk of the 2003 World Cup winning side.

The only players missing from the England side were captain Martin Johnson and five-eighth Jonny Wilkinson.

This time he got to rub shoulders with USA Eagles star and former Super Rugby player Todd Cleaver, who also played for Aspen.

The team made it to the final of the open men's competition with Johnston hopeful of going back for the tournament next year.

"It's always good to get away and be part of teams like this,” Johnston said. "Cleaver is a pretty big deal over there and pretty much the face of American rugby.”



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