The Rugby Paper
Paul Rees on Newcastle’s Brown Mike’s the perfect vintage to add sparkle to Falcons
DAVE Walder believes the delivery of Newcastle Brown to Kingston Park next season will refresh the Falcons and ensure there is no sinking feeling at the club.
Newcastle wasted no time in moving when Harlequins told the England full-back Mike Brown he would not be offered a new contract with the club where he had spent 17 years in making nearly 350 appearances, unconcerned that he will have turned 36 by the time next season starts.
“Players can be written off too early,” said Walder, Newcastle’s defence coach. “You cannot buy experience. Everyone is different and it depends on the position you play. Mike may have lost a yard of pace, although I suspect he would dispute that and I know he still does a lot speed work, but he makes up for that with his positional awareness having played the game for so long.
“You do not have experience just because you are an old man. If you have played more than 300 times for a club, you must have built up a wealth of experience and have something about you.
“We have all seen that with Mike and on top he has all his international appearances (72 England caps). We are really excited to have him here and he
will have so much to pass on to our younger players.”
There is a perception that when a player reaches 30, he has reached the top and is on the way down, but the two oldest players in this year’s Six Nations, Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones and Ireland’s Johnny Sexton, both more than proved their worth at the same age as Brown and one of the professional era’s greatest players, Daniel Carter, was 38 when he announced his retirement earlier this year.
The Italy outside-half Diego Dominguez was 38 when he helped Stade Francais win the Top 14 final in 2003, the age the France centre Aurelien Rougerie was nudging when he made his final appearance for Clermont Auvergne in 2018.
Hugo Porta was 39 when he played his final Test for Argentina, 19 years after he made his debut in 1971. And Danny Cipriani, who recently signed for Bath, will be 34 next season, another of the golden oldies.
“I was surprised when I heard we had signed Mike,” said Walder. “Dean Richards (Newcastle’s director of rugby) filled me in on how it came about and to have that calibre of player choose to come to us is exciting. I think Mike has a good couple of years left in him if managed well, and he has done that himself to play so many games.
“He has a lot to offer and my job now will be to get the best out of him and manage him week to week so when it comes to a game he is there for us in some capacity.
“He won’t play every match: Tom Penny has been a revelation since coming back from Harlequins and to have someone of Mike’s experience to bounce ideas off will be great for him.”
Brown last week spoke of his emotion when Quins told him, following a four-minute chat, that he would be released at the end of the season. Walder feels that will give the fullback, who is known anyway for his competitive zeal, even more motivation next season.
“He is fiercely competitive,” said Walder. “I would like to think everyone is in professional sport, but he wears it on his chest a bit more than others and it is great to see. He is still at the top of his game and he can have an impact on the group on and off the pitch.
“At times this season, we have lacked a bit of experience in the back three with the injuries we have picked up and to have such a good player coming here, someone who would fit into any system, and with such a long and successful Premiership record, is something I cannot wait for.”
Newcastle resume their Premiership campaign at home to Bristol on Saturday having stalled since their last league victory back in February, ironically against Harlequins.
The restrictions imposed because of the pandemic have made consistency hard and only Bristol have progressed on a largely straight line.
“It has been the toughest period we have been through as coaches,” said Walder. “Things can change so late, and whereas a last-minute game day change may not have too much impact on Bristol, who have recruited from far and wide, it is different with us.
“If you get one or two people in key positions ruled out and find that someone they scrummaged against a few days earlier also cannot play, you end up worrying whether you can fulfil the fixture.
“It is a strange old season with the stop-start nature, but we are pretty pleased with the way we are progressing. In terms of life, rugby has been fairly easy and, fortunately, no one has become seriously ill through the virus in our club. Look at it from a rugby point of view and it has been ridiculously tough.
“At times you are more worried about following certain protocols than you are about coaching the guys. Rugby is the greatest sport in the world because of the social element, but that has been put on hold, making it very hard to manage new guys coming into the squad. I hope the end is in sight.”