Everything can change in a few weeks in rugby. Just ask England’s Mike Brown. It was thought on July 4 his international career was on the scrapheap. Done and dusted. Past tense. Eddie Jones had just named a 38-strong official World Cup training squad and the name of the Harlequins full-back was nowhere to be seen.
Without a cap since England’s June 2018 win over South Africa in Cape Town, it wasn’t a massive surprise he had slipped down a pecking order where 2017 Lions Test series player Elliot Daly has emerged as the preferred No15.
In an increasingly younger man’s game, Jones was happy to turn a blind eye to the vast experience Brown could bring to the party as a 33-year-old veteran with 72 caps.
Here’s the rub, though. Nothing is nailed on in the ways of the English coach and Brown’s July epitomises this. From being left to stew on his own at the start of the month, he was thrown the lifeline of inclusion for a week-long camp in Bristol.
Then came selection for the ongoing 12-day warm-weather camp in Italy and all of a sudden, selection for the World Cup on August 12 is no longer a million miles away. He’s pleased with himself for staying in a fight that had been seemingly lost just four weeks ago.
? RISING SONS: Episode 4
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) July 30, 2019
“You want to be named in all the squads that Eddie announces,” he said about his July 4 omission during a media conference call from Treviso, the northern Italian city where England are based to experience Japan-like humidity as they train.
“We are all competitive animals so we’d be disappointed and we’d be lying if we didn’t say we were disappointed if we weren’t named. But I have been back in for the last three weeks, training as hard as possible to offer competition for places and also to make sure the team, whoever Eddie picks, is in the best place possible.
“Like I said, I’m a competitive animal and I absolutely love playing for England – it means everything to me. That’s why I work so hard, off the field and on the field.
“It’s great to be here and I’m trying to show what I’m about and show what I can bring to the team. And also making sure I am competing so that the team are also in a good place for whoever Eddie picks,” he said, adding that he did think his chance had evaporated four weeks ago.
“You have that doubt at the back of your mind, but Eddie said just be ready so I went straight back to Quins and was welcomed with a Bronco fitness test. That was pretty savage. Then I made sure I was ready. I was over the moon to get the chance to come back in and continue.”
Brown has been through one World Cup pre-season before, the preparation that led to the disastrous 2015 campaign under Stuart Lancaster. Four years on, he sheds light on the differences in the approach under Jones for Japan 2019.
“The fitness has been different and a lot more tailored to different positions. It has been hard but off the field, we are getting things right which maybe we didn’t then.”
The purpose of going to Italy was to make England endure Japan-like sweat conditions. Temperatures have been as high as 36°C and humidity percentages have ranged between 75 to 90. Perfect. “We have got through some good quality work in similar conditions that we will face in Japan, with the heat and the humidity. We have definitely been working hard.
“It [the heat] is incredibly tough. It was about 80 per cent humidity Tuesday so as soon as you step outside, everyone starts sweating. You are absolutely dripping with sweat and that makes ball-handling very tough.
GRAZIE ITALIA ?
Thank you @federugby for joining us at our Treviso training camp ??
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) July 30, 2019
“Also, for your core temperature, it’s hard to keep that low because you are sweating all the time. It just sits on your skin and then heats up even more so you can’t get your body temperature down. You are constantly feeling incredibly hot. It is really sunny here as well so just to try and keep your core temperature down is the hardest thing.
“We have got things in place in training to do that, guys coming on and spraying you with cold water, constantly trying to wipe the sweat off you so your skin gets the chance to cool down and things like that,” continued Brown, adding that dealing with weight loss during training is a major issue.
“We weigh ourselves at the start of sessions and then after so you know how much weight you have lost. The nutrition guys make sure you get the right things after training to put that weight on.
“For example, our first really hard session here last Wednesday, I lost 3kg of weight, so it’s about getting the fluids back on and eating more after a session. We have protein shakes, protein bars. We have some fruit. Things like that then getting the liquids with proper salts to get the hydration back in.
“In England, I would probably barely lose any weight from a normal session in normal conditions. After a Test match, I would probably lose a maximum of 1kg and that’s playing at the highest level under massive fatigue. So that puts it into perspective, the weight loss that you can get over here.”
England’s Italian job, though, hasn’t been all work and no play. “We have had some good times off the field as well together, making sure we bond and get closer as a team, which is also important going into a World Cup,” confirmed Brown.
So close but not quite good enough. Gutted to have finished the season earlier than hoped. Thank you @Harlequins supporters for the incredible support all season. Sorry we couldn’t give you a SF to look forward to #COYQ ??? pic.twitter.com/GCMldfs07Z
“We are getting the balance right at the moment and we are getting through some good quality work… on the weekend we had a boat trip to an island just off Venice, had some food, enjoyed each other’s company on the boat and had a few drinks.
“We have had positional dinners, team drinks – staff and players and just doing little things like that that builds bonds and memories, talking to people you don’t normally get to talk to. You learn a lot about people you don’t spend every day with.”
One player in the England camp Brown knows better than most, though, is the up and coming Alex Dombrandt, the uncapped flanker who was called over to Italy last Thursday to replace the injured Brad Shields.
“I’m impressed the way he has come in at Quins and put his game on the pitch. What’s impressing me at the moment is his consistency at the level he is playing at.
“It is sometimes quite easy to come in and for a few weeks or months, play really well, but he has been doing it for the whole season. He has really deserved his call-up for this camp the way he has played.
“He has looked good in training and not looked out of place at all and, if called upon, I’ve got no doubt he would be ready for the next step.”
WATCH: The latest RugbyPass documentary, Foden – Stateside, looks at how ex-England international Ben Foden, who kept Brown out of the 2011 England RWC squad, is settling into Major League Rugby in New York
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