Spring 2019 hasn’t been easy for Mike Brown. Usually he would be in the thick of things in England’s challenge for Six Nations honours. That was the drill for seven consecutive years, the full-back featuring in 32 of his country’s 35 matches in the tournament from 2012 to 2018.
This year, though, he has been surplus to requirements and it has hurt. England talk was firmly off the agenda when he gave RugbyPass an insight into how he is busy occupying himself with Harlequins’ charge up the Gallagher Premiership table.
Not since 2012 have the Londoners lifted the trophy, but there is a spring in their current step, winning momentum that sees them go into Sunday’s home match against Gloucester on the back of five successive victories and a sense that this could be their year to cause an upset.
“That is what we’re aiming for and desperate to achieve,” said Brown, who was in Portugal at England’s pre-Six Nations camp and then travelled with the squad for their opening round win over Ireland in Dublin before being left to concentrate on club duties.
“We’re all working incredibly hard – coaches, staff and players – to keep improving and pushing each other to improve. If we keep doing this then there’s no reason why we can’t do it again. But we just need to concentrate on each game as it comes and preparing well week-on-week, while continually improving.”
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This time last year, Quins were in the flux of a downward spiral. John Kingston, a loyal lieutenant during the trophy-winning Conor O’Shea era, had run out of road and was parked, paving the way for the cub to recruit Paul Gustard from Eddie Jones’ England set-up.
To say the switch has worked out well would be an understatement. “John Kingston is a top bloke and someone who I still speak to now. I’m not going to go over the past and what’s gone. I’m very much looking forward and excited about what may come.
“Paul has brought in a huge work ethic and demands it from us. He leads from the front in that respect with how hard he works, which is infectious. His energy and enthusiasm is also infectious which makes coming in every day so great. He also knows when to have fun at the right times.
“The thing I’ve really liked is how Paul just lets me be me, play the way which brings the best out of me and encourages me to be that. That is showing with how I’m playing.”
Now 33, Brown has packed a hell of a lot into a headline career that has had its share ups and downs. If he could write a letter to a 20-year-old version of himself starting out on the path that earned him 72 England caps, he’d keep the advice simple. “I’d say to him it’s incredibly tough so if you aren’t fully committed to it then don’t bother. Give everything you have and you’ll get the rewards. It’s worth it.”
Longevity has been the name of Brown’s game and his loyalty to Quins is rewriting history. He recently became their most capped player, surpassing Grahame Murray’s 46-year appearance record, when he played for the 308th time last month. He has also tied with Ugo Monye as the club’s record professional era try scorer, his February score against Bristol his 89th try so far.
? What are you doing tonight?
— Harlequins ? (@Harlequins) March 4, 2019
It won’t be until the boots are hung up that the significance of these individual achievements fully sets in, but Brown is pleased to have stuck by Quins. His 14-season attachment with the club is a rarity at a time where there is so much inter-club movement with players moving on from one contract to the next.
“Harlequins were the club which gave me the chance to be a professional player. It’s a great club to be part of with so much history. Being part of that and part of teams adding to the history is a big motivating factor,” he explained.
“Obviously I’m proud of these milestones but I will look at these things even more when I’ve finished my career. What’s more important to me is winning things with Harlequins and the last few years we’ve been nowhere near doing that, which I found incredibly frustrating.
“This season we have improved as a team and are now in knockout stages in Europe and currently third in the Premiership, so we’re on the right track. Hopefully we can keep getting better because I’m desperate, like everyone here is, to put this great club back where it belongs, competing for trophies.”
? STAT | Quins have scored 2?2? tries in their last four @premrugby matches
? Ahead of our match against Gloucester on Sunday, Mark Mapletoft runs us through his three favourites ?
— Harlequins ? (@Harlequins) March 7, 2019
That ambition take its latest step with Sunday’s visit of fourth-place Gloucester to the Stoop. The game’s scheduling on the same weekend as the England-Italy match across the road on Saturday at Twickenham means it won’t attract the level of attention it would normally.
Brown, though, can’t speak highly enough about his rare bread-and-butter Premiership experience at a time of the year when he would usually have been be involved on the international scene.
“All the games I’ve played in for Quins during the Six Nations have had brilliant crowds and the atmosphere at home and away has been brilliant.”
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