Sport360 speaks exclusively to England and Harlequins full-back Mike Brown, who has recently recovered from concussion and hopes to make an impact at the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
Mike Brown has been one of the big success stories of England coach Stuart Lancaster’s tenure, emerging as a trusted lieutenant in time for this most important of years.
The World Cup hosts have been building towards this autumn’s tournament with their opening match against Fiji on September 18 now less than four months away.
Brown has not played since England’s Six Nations victory against France at Twickenham on March 21 but is expected to be named in Lancaster's 45-man training squad.
A concussion – in fact suffered in the earlier Six Nations win over Italy – was responsible for curtailing his season, but he has proved his fitness as England’s preparations begin in earnest.
Speaking to Sport360, Brown reflects on a frustrating few months but looks forward to the career-defining challenges which lie ahead.
How is your concussion and when will you be playing again?
The concussion has been a long tedious affair but it seems to be going the right way and I seem to have turned a corner. I have started a bit of light fitness and weights work in the gym and it seems to be going OK at the moment. I am taking it day-by-day and hopefully I will be back for pre-season training with Harlequins.
The injury happened about three months ago and there were complications weren’t there?
I don’t think there were complications; it’s just that every concussion is different. Mine was quite a significant head knock so it just took a while longer to get better. I played a couple of games after the initial knock but because of the high intensity and physicality of those Six Nations matches I took a few more knocks and I think it was a sign from my body to say I need to have a rest, sort myself out fully and it is slowly going the right way now.
How is the rehab different these days to when you had your big head clash against Sale a few years ago?
The annoying thing is that you can’t really rehab your brain. It’s just a matter of resting it and then once it is rested properly it will let you know and you can continue to play. If it is not ready, it will let you know through headaches and that is the annoying thing about this injury. No one knows too much about concussion yet and we can’t say exactly what is going on in there and how long it will take to heal. As I say, everyone is different and it takes different amounts of time. Everyone gets different symptoms so it is a matter of having patience with the injury – which makes it even more frustrating.
Can you tell us about the symptoms you were having – were you worried for your career?
Initially I was having vertigo. So when I tilt my head backwards or turn my head over on a pillow I would get a bit dizzy. I got over that pretty quickly after going to see a vertigo specialist who gave me some specific exercises to do. The main problems I have had are headaches on either side of the front of my head. The aches haven’t been overly significant but I would say mild, and they switch from either side. They are constant throughout the day but the pain seems to be less and less every day so hopefully I have turned the corner. We have first-class medical support and I am just waiting for the all-clear so I can get back to doing my job.
Harlequins have announced some huge off-season signings including Jamie Roberts, James Horwill and Adam Jones – their arrival must make you excited for next season?
Most definitely. We are the first to admit that we have had a disappointing season and have not finished in a high enough place in the league. But these new signings all help to create a buzz and excitement that will re-energise the squad ahead of next season. It just shows that the club still has huge ambition and it will be great to play in the same backline as Jamie Roberts.
If picked, you must be really looking forward to the challenge of a home World Cup?
A home World Cup means everything and it is what a rugby player’s dreams are made of. Just being part of a World Cup our own soil would be amazing and for me it doesn’t get any bigger than that. I’ve not yet played in a World Cup so to do that would be very special.
Do you think the extra support playing in front of your own fans will make the tournament easier or add extra pressure to the England team?
Having played with the England squad over the last few years I think that the group will embrace the challenge of a home tournament. They really embrace the support at every game at Twickenham and it is massive for us. We have seen recent games at Twickenham that the extra support helps the team get over the line in those close matches.
I think the players who are affected by that kind of pressure aren’t picked for the England squad any more. I think the team will embrace the support and enjoy every minute of it.
A lot has been said about England’s ‘Group of Death’ (alongside Wales & Australia). Do you think those harder group matches could help battle-harden the teams that qualify?
I think if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. We have to be switched on right from the first game in the group stages and it is going to be incredibly tough. It is wide open but one of the top teams in the world is not going to make it through as there can only be two of us. Hopefully it will give us a good challenge going into the knockout stages and there is no way we will be undercooked should we progress.
Should players who play their club rugby overseas be picked for the England national team?
It is not my place to say whether it is a good or bad thing. But the rules are in place for a reason and we want to make the English Premiership as strong as it can possibly be.
That means having our best English talent playing in our home league and that is what makes the tournament so special – so let’s keep it that way.
There are a lot of guys who haven’t gone overseas to make the huge amounts of money on offer to ensure that they can represent their country. Let’s also bear in mind that we get paid very well in England to do what we have always wanted to do and that is play for our country. I won’t be moving abroad as I love playing for my country and I feel very privileged to do that.
Who are some of the young English players that you are looking forward to watching in the World Cup?
It is tough just to mention one. In the back three, I have played with some amazing talent. In the wings alone we have Marlon Yarde, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, Jonny May and if these guys are let loose at the World Cup they are going to be devastating. All of those guys could achieve amazing things in the game considering their talent at such a young age. Christian Wade is also pushing for a spot so it is going to be very competitive in the back three with such talent in the squad.
The World Cup organisers have done a great job getting the whole UK involved with the use of football stadia. It must all add to the excitement?
The majority of our games in the pool stages are at Twickenham but being a huge football fan myself, a game at the Ethiad stadium would be a game at the enemy for me as I’m a huge Manchester United fan.
But it is great to keep spreading the game to areas of the country that traditionally are smaller rugby cities. It is great that these stadiums are being used at the Rugby World Cup as the atmosphere inside them will be brilliant.
Have your say on England's Rugby World Cup chances by tweeting Sport360 using the hashtag #360fans
Ben Youngs has dismissed the most humiliating Aviva Premiership experience in Leicester’s illustrious history as “irrelevant” ahead of their return to Bath for a play-off showdown.
– On The Radar, May 18 – 24: Al Gaffal Traditional Dhow Race
– #360win: A trip to watch New York City FC play at Yankee Stadium
– UAE end campaign with win over Chinese Taipei
The Tigers will reappear at the Recreation Ground this Saturday, eight months after Youngs and company were demolished 45-0 by a Bath side whose star-studded back division ran riot.
At stake this time is a place in the Premiership final at Twickenham on May 30, a domestic showpiece Leicester have graced on nine previous occasions, but one that Bath last savoured 11 years ago.
Saints’ semi-final against Saracens will take place at 2pm next Saturday. Bath v Leicester is at 5pm on the same day.
— Tom Vickers (@WheresTommyV) May 16, 2015
“I am really excited at the prospect of going back to the Rec. It is all about getting a result there,” said Leicester skipper Youngs, following a 22-14 victory over Northampton that confirmed a third-place Premiership finish behind Saints and Bath.
“We lost 45-0 there in September, and it was not the first time we had been well-beaten there. We are the underdogs, but it is a one-off game. A game a few months ago is irrelevant.”
Successive victories over Wasps and Northampton suggest that Leicester have reached the playoffs in decent shape, and even though they now have to travel, their Premiership pedigree means that another march on Twickenham cannot be ruled out.
“People have had a go at us this season, but we came third in the table and won 15 matches to Northampton’s 16,” Youngs added.
”The pressure on this club is high, but no higher than what the players put on themselves. We are not going there to make up the numbers, and we all want to be part of another winning team. We are an experienced side that boasts players who have played in crucial matches for the Lions, country and club.”
Leicester, meanwhile, appear likely to put an emphasis on rehabilitation – rather than any severe punishment – for their disgraced England centre Manu Tuilagi.
Tigers star Tuilagi pleaded guilty to assaulting two female police officers when he appeared before magistrates in Leicester three days ago following an incident last month.
Manu Tuilagi grabbed a taxi driver by the throat, kicked his wing mirror, and then pushed two female police officers hard in the chest.
— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) May 15, 2015
He pleaded guilty to one count of assault by beating, one count of criminal damage and two counts of assaulting a police officer. He was fined £5,500 and ordered to pay £705 in costs.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster responded by announcing that Tuilagi will not be considered for selection for the national elite playing squads until January 2016, meaning he will miss the autumn World Cup.
Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill has given his support to Lancaster’s stance, but also stressed the importance of club and country helping Tuilagi.