After securing a first England Slam in 13 years, MIke Brown says England's next target must be regularly going toe-to-toe with the best, with world No 2 Australia in his sights
There are two sides to Mike Brown. The public image is intense, heart on sleeve, in-your-face buccaneering England full-back, with the moniker Mr Angry. Yet away from the madding crowd, Mike Brown cuts an altogether more relaxed mien. Away from the camera lens, he’s at ease; laughing and joking with his England colleagues and putting in the time to coach a glut of starry-eyed youngsters at the Harlequins’ training base in Guildford.
With the Grand Slam still fresh in the memory, the worry lines etched on his brow from England’s World Cup despair are absent and on a sunny day in the Surrey Hills, he has the look of a man happy with his lot in life.
Minutes after clinching the Grand Slam, Brown was captured embracing his father in the throng of the cavernous Stade de France. It was win that had acted as catharsis from the trauma of the autumn. “You’re right”, he smiles. “It was a special, emotional evening to finally do it. We were only the 13th England side to win it in over 130-odd years and to be honest we were fed up of finishing second. There’s now no doubt we’re the number one team in Europe and to be able to say that is amazing, a testament to all the hard work we’ve put in.”
The turnaround from the dark days against Wales and latterly Australia, when sections of the crowd booed the team are tangible, and it speaks volumes for Eddie Jones’ restorative powers that England didn’t carry any emotional scars during the tournament.
When probed on the reasons for the turnaround, Brown, who was appointed vice-captain, along with Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola, points at Eddie Jones’ refocusing on the fundamentals of England traditional strengths, namely a strong set-piece, physical dominance and fusing it with a pressing, offensive game. “We probably showed that expansive side in two of our five games but more important was not taking a backward step, and exerting pressure on the opposition.”
There were other tweaks too. Where the House of Lancaster was said to be stifling as the World Cup approached, Eddie Jones, a veteran Test coach of Australia, South Africa and Japan, has set a more relaxed tone. “Off the field Eddie invested in the social side a bit more, or as Mako Vunipola said ‘burgers and beers’. Eddie is an astute man.”
While Jones, who plays the wily Aussie larrakin perfectly, throwing out grenades at will, he knows when to unwind, he also knows when to ramp it up and Brown says the players are in doubt of his edge. “Eddie is hard when he needs to be. He challenges you physically and mentally to get better around camp. He knows how to build up team spirit with a team like England who don’t get to see each other enough before tournaments.”
There were other moments of ingenuity from Jones in Brown’s eyes; bringing in Wallaby snaffler-supreme George Smith and England icon Jonny Wilkinson. “That was a genius move. George is still at the top of his game and having Jonny’s presence around the camp was incredible. He’s still got it, I can tell you that.”
The France game was a milestone for Brown personally. He became the most capped England full-back of all time, passing Matt Perry on 36 caps (of Brown’s 48 caps, 11 have come on the wing), but it’s not something he’s be dwelling on. “Someone mentioned that milestone but I’m not one for looking back. I’ll pat myself on the back when we’ve won a World Cup. I still have so much to achieve. It’s about the team goals, not just picking up caps.”
Brown’s impatience is shared by his coach, as within an hour of winning England’s first Grand Slam since 2003, Eddie Jones was courting the press about the need for the Slam to be the stepping stone for England; a start not an end, with a Series win in Australia next on the list. “It’s about time someone was bullish about us. It gives us confidence that he believes in us enough to talk us up in public. He can be a tough and challenging but he’s a proven winner.”
In June, England will be running out at the hostile amphitheatres of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, with hot-steppers Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale and Tevita Kuridrani expected to fend with but Jones’ boys, but Brown swats away talk of the Wallabies threats, instead focusing inwards. “What will stop us is what we do”, he says pointedly. “If we let them play their game, they’ll win, simple as that. They deserved to win the World Cup game. End of. They were fantastic but if we play like we can, we will cause them problems. We will go Down Under as Europe’s best and the next step is taking on the World’s No 2 team on their own patch.”
For now, Brown has domestic matters to attend to, with a tricky win over London Irish chalked off in the Challenge Cup meaning silverware is still on offer and a top six spot in the Premiership to secure with Quins still duking it out with Sale Sharks, after a season which has left Brown less than impressed. “We haven’t done it this year. It’s been a disappointing if we’re honest. We’ve not been good enough which is why we are where we are. We’re still in with a chance in the Challenge Cup but we know we have to win every game in the league – we don’t want to finish 8th again!”
With that, it’s back out onto the paddock to shape young minds. The battles for world supremacy can wait.
Mike Brown was speaking at the adidas Rugby Insiders ‘Better Player’ event. For more info or to take part in future events www.adidasrugbyinsiders.co.uk or follow @adidasUK #rugbyinsiders
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