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FEATURE Rugby’s forever man Mike Brown: 'I'm a driven individual'

Rugby’s forever man Mike Brown: 'I'm a driven individual'
2 months ago

At 38, Mike Brown is still hell-bent on proving people wrong.

He did it at Harlequins as a rough diamond given an unexpected chance in their academy.

He did it with England, stubbornly knocking on the selection door until he broke it down with such force that he ended up playing 72 times for his country.

And now, having been discarded as past his sell-by date, he is doing it again at Leicester.

He has been at this Premiership lark for 19 years. His family home, with wife Eliza and children Jax, 6, and Sienna, 1, is in Surrey which makes for an awful lot of motorway miles.

But rugby’s forever man just refuses to go away.

Mike Brown
Brown has played 18 games, and scored four tries, for Leicester this term after joining midway through last season (Photo Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

The question of why gets right to the heart of who Mike Brown is.

“My team-mates do like to reference my age quite a lot but that’s fine. It drives me on even more in training to make sure I’m at the front so I can turn round and say, ‘The old boy has still got it lads. How about you keep up?’” he said.

“I’m a driven individual. As soon as I was given an opportunity in rugby to make it a career, I was very driven to make the most of that opportunity. That was from day one at the Harlequins academy looking around at some of the guys who had maybe come through rugby-playing schools and had been schoolboy internationals whereas I was just some kid from a sixth form college that Collin Osbourne, the coach, had taken a punt on.

“That drive enables me to stay on top of the small habits and disciplines that are needed to stay at a certain level.

It’s not easy being in professional rugby for however long I’ve done it. But I’ve got a year left on my contract after this and I’ve no other thought process than playing on.

“It does get harder with age mainly because of other responsibilities in life. That’s in full swing for me now with two young children and I want to throw myself into that as well.

“I have to stay up in Leicester at least once a week and I find that hard because I want to be there to support and see the kids – and there’s the commute on top of that.

“I’ve got a lot of plates to spin but I’m still very much driven to be successful as an individual but also help a team be successful as well.

“It’s not easy being in professional rugby for however long I’ve done it. But I’ve got a year left on my contract after this and I’ve no other thought process than playing on. It might come out of the blue suddenly that it’s time, but it’s not at the moment.”

Mike Brown
Brown was a Premiership champion with Harlequins for a second time in 2021 – his final season with the club (Photo Warren Little/Getty Images)

So Brown fights on. His career had looked, from the outside, to be over in 2022 when a brief stay at Newcastle ended with his release and no offers of alternative employment arrived. He was out of the game for 11 months. But the evergreen full-back kept himself fit, waiting, hoping someone would look past his age and take a chance.

“In my head I knew that wasn’t it because of the way I felt mentally and physically – it was just a case of needing someone else to realise that as well,” he said.

“I was just randomly watching a Leicester game one evening and Freddie Burns went down with a bump that looked quite severe – it wasn’t as it turned out – but I dropped Wiggy (Richard Wigglesworth), who had taken over as Leicester coach, a message saying that if they needed some cover with Freddie Steward going away for the Six Nations to let me know. He messaged back to say they did and I went up for a trial. I hadn’t had a trial since I was about 16.

The shaven head, the snarl, the sheer bloody-minded competitor in him was that of an identikit Tiger of old.

“I went up on the Monday and I lasted one weights session before I got the call that I had better come back because my missus was heavily pregnant and things were on the move. Sienna didn’t arrive until Thursday and I can imagine they were thinking: ‘where the hell has he gone?’. I went back up the following Monday, did a week’s trial from there and fortunately it worked out in the end.”

He was man of the match on his Tigers debut.

Some players who move clubs – particularly those whose careers have been spent at one club specifically – look odd in another team’s colours.

For all that Brown gave 16 years to Harlequins, that was never the case with him and Leicester.

The shaven head, the snarl, the sheer bloody-minded competitor in him was that of an identikit Tiger of old.

Mike Brown
Brown scored two of his 13 England tries in his final three Tests in South Africa in June 2018 (Photo David Rogers/Getty Images)

“Reflecting on my career – as you do as you get a bit older – I probably do think the mould I am as a person and a player probably fits better at Leicester than at Quins, weirdly enough,” he said.

“I’m not saying that I didn’t love Quins. I loved their unstructured counter-attack and their offloading game which also helped me be successful as a player.

“But Leicester had always been a team that I had looked at from afar and thought: ‘I can fit into that’. I respected what they are about – the toughness in their DNA, how physical they are in the way they play and their work ethic. That’s still the same today.

“Welford Road is a proper rugby ground with proper supporters. As an opposition player, they are hostile and right on top of you. Joining Leicester, you feel very lucky to get a chance to run out in that environment and that motivates you even more.”

Champions two years ago, it looks a long shot for them to go all the way this season.

I’ll roam around anyway. It’s not like I’m the sort of winger who stays right out on the wing – that doesn’t really suit me. I need to be in and amongst it.

Back on home soil after their derby mauling by Northampton, it is reaction time against Bristol at Welford Road for Leicester.

It is the first of what is effectively three play-offs to make the play-offs, with Sale and Exeter to come in their remaining league games.

Brown starts on Saturday on the right wing, out of position, marking an opponent – Gabriel Ibitoye – who is 12 years his junior.

“Needs must. It’s fine. I just want to get on the pitch,” he added.

“I’ll roam around anyway. It’s not like I’m the sort of winger who stays right out on the wing – that doesn’t really suit me. I need to be in and amongst it.”

A suitable epitaph for Brown’s career – even if it shows no sign of ever ending.

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