Leaving aside the obvious, the flagrant shattering of the salary cap and all of the rancour and controversy that followed, Kelly Brown sees plenty he can pinch from Saracens and use to propel Glasgow Warriors upwards. A culture exists at the English and European champions that everybody who plays there seems to hail.
It’s not just the prolific winning – players talk of an intangible brotherhood, portraying a rugby utopia where people are energised and cared for and pursue their goals with rampant vigour. Of course, it’s much easier to cultivate such an environment when lavish sums are being meted out and trophies arrive year on year, but there is patently more to it than plain money.
A decade after leaving Glasgow for Saracens as a barnstorming flanker, Brown has returned to the Warriors as a coach. The former Scotland captain has a specific remit to oversee the contact area and defensive lineouts on Danny Wilson’s new staff.
“In spite of everything that happened at Saracens over the past year, it’s been turbulent which is maybe quite an understatement, but it’s a club that in my opinion does a lot of stuff right and I want to bring a lot of the good bits up to Glasgow, absolutely,” Brown said.
“The thing that amazed me the most when I went to Saracens was that we never spoke about winning. We spoke about going and making memories and I thought that was a brilliant way to do it. I know that ultimately professional sport’s about winning but I just thought as a way to take all the pressure off the players it was an amazing way to do it and focus on.
Always a silver lining https://t.co/Afb5E8f0F0
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 15, 2020
“That changed over the years as the club has had success and they do speak about it a little bit more, but I thought it was a great way to do it. Let’s just focus on making unbelievable memories and if you do that you win games.”
After retiring in 2017, Brown began his coaching voyage with the Saracens academy, frequently stepping up to assist guiding the first team in the Anglo-Welsh and Premiership Rugby Cups. On his watch, some wonderful talent emerged and flourished, among the graduates Manu Vunipola, Rotimi Segun and Joel Kpoku.
Gregor Townsend had called upon the 38-year-old to work with Scotland on several occasions. He soaked up the wisdom of Mark McCall and learned from visiting coaches such as Daryl Gibson, the former Glasgow and All Blacks centre who was then in charge of the Waratahs.
But while Brown may have come from a hugely successful juggernaut, he knows trying to turn Glasgow into Saracens will only rankle. “Every culture is slightly different and there is no way I’m going to come up and say, ‘I’ve been at Saracens, I know all this stuff’. There are little bits and pieces I can definitely bring up,” Brown said.
“In Glasgow, when I played there and speaking to those who have been here in the last ten years, it’s a club with a great culture and a really good environment. I’m not coming in to try and change everything, but there are little bits that I do feel we can add and improve because we are striving to get better.
“When (the Saracens culture) was started back in 2009, the year before I went, it was Brendan Venter and Edward Griffiths, the director of rugby and the chief executive. It has evolved over the years, but ultimately it’s all about caring for people.
“A lot of people had this ethos – and they still do – to keep people keen, treat them mean. At Sarries it was the exact opposite. That’s certainly how I like to operate and it’s something I’ll definitely keep in the forefront of my mind at Glasgow.”
The flit north was sudden. Having coached alongside Wilson in the national camp, lockdown brainstorms and technical check-ins quickly became a job offer. It sparked what Brown calls a “mad sprint” to find a house for the family amid the Covid-19 pandemic, ending with a place in Edinburgh an Owen Farrell punt from Jim Hamilton’s home.
?? "As soon as I got the phone call from Danny I was very excited."
We caught up with @kellydrbrown to talk about his new role with Glasgow, what he plans to bring to the role and what to expect from the third leg of The 1872 Cup.#WhateverItTakes
— Glasgow Warriors (@GlasgowWarriors) August 16, 2020
The two old Saracens and Scotland warhorses have been flogging each other in a variety of home workouts lately – “trying to turn back the clock”, as Brown says, although predictably it has “become apparent that we can’t”.
“I’ve got a lot of love for that club and I was definitely sad to leave,” he added. “I’ve got a lot of good friends and it’s been an amazing place to be for ten years. I was also a bit sad to be leaving because of the opportunity they have now to build again, that is an amazing opportunity. I’ve nothing but fond memories of my time there and it’s one of two clubs I love.”
In the past three years, Glasgow have twice made the Champions Cup quarter-finals and twice been drawn away to Saracens. On each afternoon, a thorough battering ensued. The perception of the Warriors is that while they weave some gorgeous attacking rugby, they can be outmuscled and overwhelmed by more physically imposing opposition.
“It’s definitely an area, not just as Glasgow but with Scottish sides over the years that Scottish sides have always been a little bit smaller,” Brown said. “Some of the guys I worked with in the academy at Sarries, the young athletes and the number of them was just significantly bigger in England. It’s definitely something we need to get right.
3 years, doesn’t time fly! https://t.co/6uGs5C6Ma1
— Kelly Brown (@kellydrbrown) April 29, 2020
“What has been great is that Glasgow have got to the knockout stages in these big competitions and have learned lessons from that. Now we need to understand how, when we get to these games, we start to win them. We did in 2015 but in Europe, we need to keep giving ourselves opportunities in knockout games and soon we’ll start to take them.”
Glasgow are back in pre-season now, although they do not know when they will next play. The Guinness PRO14 has yet to announce its fixtures for the new season with its two South African entrants unable to start the campaign due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
In Scotland, there have been several high-profile breaches of lockdown rules by top-flight footballers. Multiple games were postponed as a result. Those national rules have been tightened again this week, and the Warriors players have been reminded not to take any chances.
“What is great is that we’re in, and we’re doing the pre-season, and we’re anticipating to start next season at some point in the next month or so,” Brown said. “We get tested at the start of every week and then after that pretty much everything has got to be socially distanced. Obviously, on the training pitch, we get a little bit closer, but all the coaches wear masks during all the sessions.
“We’re conscious that we need to be whiter than white, and that’s something we’ve been speaking to all the players about. There was a change in the lockdown rules on Monday, and so we’ve spoken to all of the players – just highlighting how important it is that we make good choices and don’t do anything that could jeopardise us going back to games.”
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