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'He used to go off at players like Marland Yarde all the time, little nicknames, little comments to try and wind him up'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

Mike Brown has been remembering what life used to be like when he was in England camp under Eddie Jones, the coach who ultimately dropped him from the squad in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup following an altercation with teammate Ben Te’o at a training camp in Italy. 

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The 35-year-old, who won his last cap when England played South Africa in Cape Town in June 2018, was reminiscing about his career when appearing with veteran Wales midfielder Jamie Roberts on the latest RugbyPass Offload.    

Brown recalled the mental stress Jones used to put his England players under from the second they would arrive in for duty, meeting them for one-to-ones and then going on to relentlessly test them throughout the week. 

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Mike Brown joins Jamie Roberts on the latest RugbyPass Offload

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Mike Brown joins Jamie Roberts on the latest RugbyPass Offload

Even when away from England camp, Brown revealed that Jones always kept players on their toes with a constant flow of communication. Sometimes messages were even sent to his phone while he was on the pitch playing for Harlequins, another example of the methods Jones employed to get the best from his players.

“It’s bloody tough, mentally and physically. He’s on you the whole time,” said Brown, who was recently linked with a move away from Harlequins to Gallagher Premiership rivals Newcastle. “Even when you are not in camp you see his name flash up on your phone. 

“You see it after games for your club, his name flashing up and you look at when he has messaged you and it’s during a game. You just dread it when he rings or he texts because you are worried about what he is going to say. And then when you are in camp it’s literally non-stop from when you wake up in the morning to when you go to bed at night. He is always testing you, especially mentally, little messages here and there, little comments passed in the corridor, things in meetings, testing you on knowledge. 

“That is why England have got to where they have got to because they have someone like him leading the way and testing players and keeping them on their toes so that they can perform at the highest level but it is tough. Physically as well, training is brutal. You have to train like that, you have to prepare like that if you want to achieve things as a national team at the highest level of the game. 

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“In camp, you just want to keep your head down, stay under the radar. When you turned up to camp you would always have a one-on-one with him as soon as you got there and that would be the most nerve-wracking thing, everyone queuing up outside his office.  

“He used to go off at players like Marland Yarde all the time, little nicknames, just on him the whole time in training, just little comments to try and wind him up, things like that. And I guess it is just him testing those guys out, seeing if they are ready for the step up, see how they react under pressure. Sometimes it works, sometimes guys just can’t handle it at all and then you don’t see them ever again.”

Asked to outline a specific mentally challenging incident, Brown recalled the build-up to one particular Sin Nations match. “I remember a game against Italy coming up and there was a lot of chat in the press whether he would try guys out. 

“I had played regularly under him so whether guys like myself would be moved out just to try other people, he caught wind of that and he brought me in his office for a one on one. He chucked down this piece of paper. I didn’t look at it but he was, ‘Why the F are you worrying about the team? You should be focusing on training well. Here’s the flipping team but it can change’. I didn’t look what team was written down. 

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“It probably had nothing written down but it made me go away and just focus on the session but then he called me back the next day and said, ‘I can see you moping around, you’re not doing what I want’. I actually thought I had trained pretty well but he was just trying to test me, see how I would react. 

“It definitely geed me up for the rest of the week and wound me up. It made me pretty angry, made me want to show him that wasn’t the way I was thinking and really get ripping and stuck into training.”

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finn 8 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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