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28th Feb 2015

Mike Brown tells us about toppling Ireland, ‘world-class’ Rob Kearney and England’s desperation for success

A concussion sustained against Italy has sidelined the fullback

Patrick McCarry

The Six Nations Player of 2014 believes Ireland are the Northern Hemisphere’s form side. He misses this weekend’s encounter with the reigning champions, after suffering a setback in a graduated return from concussion, but is hopeful of facing the French and Scots in March.

Mike Brown can still recall the green flickers on the TV screen as Irish players lept joyously about Stade de France. The England fullback had watched Joe Schmidt’s men hold on for a 22-20 win over France in Paris.

England had hammered Italy to cause some Irish flutters but the points difference was too great and victory in France saw England fall short. Surrounded by his fellow international teammates one minute, Brown was one of many that slipped away to be left with his own thoughts.

‘We only had ourselves to blame,’ admitted Brown, speaking ahead of Sunday’s game. ‘We put ourselves in that position by losing, first time out, against France. Ireland showed their class, though, and fully deserved to win the championship. Everybody was so drained after that game as we knew we had left it to someone else to look after our fate.’

England players watch the closing moments of the France vs Ireland game 15/3/2014

The deflating end to the 2014 championship was in stark contrast with the thrilling nature in which Brown enlivened the tournament. The Harlequins back scored tries against France, Scotland and Italy [twice], while his stunning line-break set up Danny Care’s try in the hard-fought win over Ireland at Twickenham.

‘It was my first full championship at fullback and I was extremely happy with how I went [and] that I was making a positive contribution. Still, I feel that I can get so much better. I’m playing under one of the best coaches in the world [Stuart Lancaster] and with a great team.

‘I’m keen to add some subtleties to my game. I’ve made some improvements to my kicking game , especially my attacking kicks, and I’m starting to put people away more. Some people only see the guy scoring the tries but I’m taking as much pleasure at putting guys away now.’


Brown has made 19 starts for England since June 2013 and his form is now vital to his team’s success. It was not always so. He made his Test debut in 2007 but found himself, from 2008 until 2012, in the international wilderness.

He credits Quins director of rugby, Conor O’Shea, as one of his main sources of inspiration. ‘Conor has been a massive help to me. He is such a positive person and it is great to have a former fullback – someone who knows your game – in charge. In terms of coaching and attention to detail, he has been great. Together, we have added power and speed to my game.

‘We would have had many conversations during my time out of the England team. Those exclusions would have hurt but Conor kept telling me to stay focused, stay on top of my game, because my chance would come. He was so adamant I would get another opportunity.’

Stuart Lancaster called him up for the 2012 Six Nations and he made three appearances off the bench. The final outing of the three was the 30-9 victory against Ireland at Twickenham. In his three encounters with Ireland, Brown has yet to lose. Nonetheless, he believes the reigning champions are the Northern Hemisphere’s team to beat.

I’m not being cautious, Lancaster said in the lead-up to the game. “We are just following the protocols to the letter. Mike’s welfare is our primary concern and I’m simply guided by what the doctor tells me.’ Brown, ultimately, was ruled out of the tie – following on from the concussion he sustained against Italy a fortnight ago.

He backs Alex Goode, his replacement in the No.15 jersey, to perform in the white-hot Dublin atmosphere but is not underestimating the challenge facing England.

He said, ‘It is often hard to pick out one team and say ‘They’re favourites’ but you can’t look much farther than Ireland. They are a stand-out side. As a player, I’ve had so many good matches against Irish sides. For club and country.

‘I have a lot of time for Irish players, clubs and supporters. I’ve played Leinster, Munster and Connacht in recent years and, even if we have won, I have had Irish fans coming up to me after games, telling me how well I have played. Win or lose, they are so gracious and they support good rugby. I have a soft spot for Ireland and always enjoy playing against them.’

As a card-carrying 15, Brown has the utmost respect for his opposite number, Rob Kearney. ‘I really admire Rob as a player,” he said. “He is pure quality, proven at the highest level and a Lion. He played magnificently well at Twickenham last year and scored a fantastic try. He’s a dangerous player and we will have our work cut-out to keep him under wraps.’

Rob Kearney runs in for a try 22/2/2014

Another player Brown wants his English team-mates to shackle is Ireland captain Paul O’Connell, a player who has ‘been there, done that, starred on three Lions tours and is a real talisman’. The half-back combination of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, he warns, can do damage if they are afforded too much time and space. ‘They pull the strings and combine incredibly well,” says Brown. “We’ll have to get into them from the start.’

Brown exhaled, long and loud, when asked about his contributions in the 2006 Junior World Championship with England. ‘We had Dylan Hartley, James Haskell, Tom Croft, Dave Wilson, Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and Ben Foden. There’s a few of us old boys hanging around.

‘There’s a good age spread in the squad. You have Anthony Watson, at 20, and Nick Easter, 36 years young and still going strong.’

For all the talent in the English squad, only one Six Nations championship has been claimed since 2003. Brown said, ‘We’re desperate to achieve, as a squad. Hopefully I’ll be able to play my part [later in the championship] and we can start a run with this year’s Six Nations.

‘We’ve got a good record over Ireland in recent years and we’ll be doing everything to keep those wins in our favour. It’s us versus the champions on their home patch so we don’t, for a minute, expect it to be easy.’

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