All Black Nick Evans believes Mike Brown has turned himself into an attacking force Eddie Jones must include in England’s World Cup squad in Japan despite the Harlequins full back having missed out on Six Nations action.
Brown is stuck on 72 caps having been dropped for England’s November tests with Elliot Daly at No15 as England beat South Africa, Japan and Australia but lost to New Zealand. Despite being included in this year’s Six Nations squad, Brown was unused with Jones opting for Chris Ashton, Jack Nowell, Joe Cokanasiga, Henry Slade and Ben Te’o as the back three cover from the bench in the five championships matches.
Patently, Jones was looking for something different and that has seen Brown work to improve his attacking game to supplement the rock like defence and expertise under the high ball. As a result, Brown finished the regular Premiership season as the top offloading player in England and even made more yards in attack (1188) than Saracens Alex Goode (1167). One of the sticks used by critics against Brown was his inability to link with his fellow backs, preferring to take contact and set up a ruck which makes the 37 offloads he delivered for Quins this season such a game changer for Evans, the club’s respected backs coach.
Evans, who is adamant Quins can still showcase even more of Brown’s attacking threat, said: “What separates Mike from others is his work in defence, under the high ball, the off-loading and the competitiveness we all know he has. I hope he goes because he deserves it and offers something different. In a World Cup that is what you may need. Mike is not just a defensive minded full back and I have never believed he was and I played with him for nearly 10 years. Fans and other coaches have pigeon holed him as that but off-loading is a strength in his game.
“He often beats the first tackler because he is slippery and can accelerate away through contact. We have been working to get him more involved in the wider channels and if you look at Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson you can see that Eddie Jones likes that kind of player with added pace. While Mike may not have that pace, he is one of the most devastating strike runners off set piece and I will hold my hand up and say that we haven’t used him as often as we should from scrums and line outs. He is such a strong ball carrier and runs great lines with subtle little changes.
“He is a champion bloke who wants to get the best out of himself and we have been working really hard on all aspects, particularly attacking play because that’s where the questions were coming. No one questions his ability under the high ball or as the last man in defence and for me he has been one of the players of the year for Quins. He has been a leader in the backs and all season Mike has been brilliant and that is credit to the work he has put in.”
Evans dismisses the argument that Brown should not be picked because he doesn’t offer the same attributes as rival full backs and there is considerable debate over Goode’s inability to break back into the test arena. “ They are different players and people say “ oh, he doesn’t do this like Daly or Watson” but they don’t do what Mike does. It comes down to one man’s opinion and that is Eddie Jones and if he has a view of what he wants then it can be hard to sway that.”
Brown will celebrate his 34th Birthday on September 4 with England facing their opening Cup pool match with Tonga in Sapporo on September 22 followed by the a trip to Kobe to take on the USA just four days later. Brown has just eight replacement appearances in his 72 caps and four of his test were during England’s failed 2015 World Cup campaign where the team suffered the ignominy of failing to get out of their pool as the host nation.
England faced another “Pool of Death” four years ago on home soil and defeats to Wales and Australia destroyed their chances of glory and in Japan they take on France, Argentina, USA and Tonga.
A key indicator of where Brown figures will be the make-up of the England squad to face the Barbarians on 2 June . That squad – which will be overseen by Jim Mallinder not Jones – will be made up almost entirely of players who will miss out on World Cup training squad selection.