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How a Maro Itoje prank triggered infamous inhouse England brawl

By Ian Cameron
Maro Itoje wears his World Cup cap during the England Welcome Ceremony held at the Miyazaki Prefectural Government Hall on September 16, 2019 in Miyazaki, Japan. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Former England fullback Mike Brown has revealed how an innocent Maro Itoje prank on a social was the catalyst for his now-infamous 2019 brawl with centre Ben Te’o.

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Brown has given more detail of what happened in the lead-up to the incident in 2019, which ultimately saw the pair excluded from England’s Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan.

The incident made national headlines but Brown has up until now refused to go into detail about what exactly happened. For the first time in three years, the Newcastle Falcons fullback has explained exactly what happened in Italy.

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Mike Brown | Rugby Roots
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Mike Brown | Rugby Roots

“It was unfortunate really,” Brown told RugbyPass Jim Hamilton in the Rugby Roots documentary. “You’ve been on enough socials to know things like that happen.

“We’d had a really intense two week period in Treviso in our World Cup camp. The training was the toughest I’ve ever experienced in my life.

“And we hadn’t done too much socially away from it. So at the end of that two-week block we had a social. Just a beach club during the day.

“Some guys had a few too many. I think I’d had like two drinks. I’m not a big drinker. But then we’d worked hard so.

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“There was a situation where another player had too many. I don’t know whether I should his name. He’s not a great drinker,” joked Brown. “Maro [Itoje] decided it would be funny to go around whacking people, in a fun, jovial way, but he’s a big guy and he’s been drinking.

“He hit me very hard there [points at chest]. Hard enough to leave a massive handprint. And I’m sitting there just chatting, having a good relax for the first time in a few weeks and he’s come up behind me and whacked me.

“He’s done it to a few people, but I didn’t really take kindly to that.

“So I left it a few minutes because I was steaming. I was so angry.

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Brown Te'o England
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

“I left it a few minutes, calmed down, then pulled him aside and said ‘Look, I know we’re having a good time and that, but I don’t really appreciate that. I think it’s disrespectful, just don’t do it again. And it was fine, me and Maro were fine.”

“Ben [Te’o] being the wind-up he is, kind of cottoned on to that and then for the rest of the time decided he would try and wind me up. And he’d had a few aswell. He likes his drink.

“He kept on [motions a pushing gesture with hands], ‘You’re not going to do anything, you’re not going to do anything. Tough guy on the pitch’, just messing around.

“There was a case where he [Te’o] was trying to do it and he kind of fell over this table and knocked a load of drinks over.”

At that point two young England recruits – and teammates of Brown at Harlequins – attempted to settle things down.

Ben Te’o at Worcester Warriors. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

“Joe Marchant and Alex Dombrandt, who were new to the environment at the time, just stood up and were like ‘Ben, what are you doing? Just leave him alone. We’re just trying to chill out.’

“I don’t think he liked that because they were two young guys and it wound him up a bit. He went away and I think he was a bit annoyed because he’d been shown up by two young lads.

“So then we left, early evening, late afternoon, we all walked back because we always left as a team to get on the coach.

“I can hear him in front of me with a group of lads. There’s a couple of us and then there’s a big group and he’s going ‘I’m going to knock him out on the bus, I’m going to do this to him, I’m going to that to him’.

Brown Te'o England
Mike Brown and Ben Te’o in happier times (Photo by Steve Bardens/The RFU Collection via Getty Imagesges)

“I was like ‘Te’o, I’m stood right behind you. What’s your problem?’

“I’m walking and he kind of walks back to me and we meet and he’s just swung for me. He clips me nicely [points to brow]. He’s handy with his fists aswell. He spends more time doing his boxing on the side of the pitch than training on it,” laughed Brown. “Anyone who knows Te’o, knows he’s not the biggest trainer.

“He’s done a lot of boxing and he’s a big lad and he clipped me well. We just kind of came together and everyone kind of dove in and broke it up.

“I didn’t get near him. By the time he’d thrown it,  to us coming together, everyone was in there just pulling us apart. That’s basically what happened.”

Head coach Eddie Jones’ blamed both players for the incident, a fact that still rankles with Brown.

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“Eddie didn’t take kindly to that. It was a shame really. He tried to make that the reason why I wasn’t going to the World Cup. He didn’t speak to me from the moment it happened… I felt a bit let down because not many lads said ‘Mike didn’t actually really do much. It was instigated by other people.’

“I didn’t feel like anyone really had my back. People were kind of looking after themselves because it was close to a World Cup and I kind of understand that.

“That wasn’t the reason why I didn’t go to the World Cup. I think it was just easier for Eddie to put it on that, as I’d kind of been getting pushed out of the team as that season had gone on.

“Then a few days later when he’s ringing around people to say they’re not involved, he kind of puts it on that. I said to him ‘Look, I understand selection is what it is, but don’t put it on that [the fight]. You haven’t even asked me what happened.

“With all due respect, I didn’t really do anything. I don’t feel like it was my fault, I hadn’t drunk much, two drinks or whatever. There were people in a worse state than me and I was just trying to mind my own business.

Eddie Jones Mike Brown
Eddie Jones and Mike Brown /Getty via PA

“So he [Eddie Jones] just switched and turned on me, effing and blinding. It wasn’t nice. Just be a man and say what is the reason I’m not getting picked. Don’t try to put it on that, because it’s not that. It’s pretty clear and obvious that it’s not that.

“I asked him to tell me what he thinks happened and he said ‘My security guards were there, they told me what happened.

“I said, let me see what they’ve said has happened, because he said he had written reports. He wouldn’t give me that. He said: ‘Who the F do you think you are?’ because I was going back at him and he doesn’t like that.

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“It’s a shame it ended up like that. I wanted clarity on why I wasn’t getting picked, not some made-up excuse.”

Brown says he doesn’t hold any major grudge against Te’o, who had been a friend of his up until the incident.

“With Ben Te’o it was fine. It is what it is. It happens on socials. I didn’t think he’d be like that being pretty decent mates with him. It’s not like I hold a grudge against him. And it wasn’t the reason I didn’t go to the World Cup.”

Brown and Hamilton joked that Itoje’s initial whack was the real reason behind the bust-up.

“When I confronted him [Itoje] about what he was doing, he stopped and he was fine. It is what it is.

“I didn’t do enough during that season. I didn’t do enough of what Eddie wanted to see… It’s just a shame it ended like that. And it got out in the press that that was the reason you’re not going and it’s not and then my name gets tarnished.

“That’s the hard thing. Everyone just sees that story, and at the time you don’t think you can really put your point of view across and say what happened because there’s still a glimmer of hope that someone might get injured and you’ll get called up.

“You just have to take it on the chin and keep quiet.”

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