Matt Taylor was coming to the end of his playing career at the Border Reivers just as Kelly Brown was emerging as one of the stand-out young Scottish talents of his generation and the elder back-rower immediately sensed he was destined for big things.
Brown announced yesterday that he will be hanging up his boots at the end of the season but Taylor believes the Saracens flanker/No 8 has the tools to become a leading coach as he pursues the next chapter in his rugby career.
The 34-year-old Brown was capped 64 times for Scotland, captaining his country on 14 occasions in a Test career that ran from 2005, when he scored a try on debut against Romania, to 2014 when a shoulder injury ended his summer tour in a match against Canada in Toronto.
A product of Earlston High School and Melrose RFC, Brown was a star performer at age-grade level before turning pro with the Borders and moving to Glasgow when the Gala-based team was closed in 2007. At the Warriors he became one third of the famous ‘Killer Bees’ back-row trio with John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie.
He left Glasgow for Saracens in 2010 and enjoyed a gilded last few years of his career, winning the English title three times and the European Champions Cup last year, and he will be remaining with the London club as an academy coach.
Glasgow and Scotland defence coach Taylor, who moves to the national squad full-time at the end of the season, said: “I coached Kelly with Scotland but was a player at the Borders when he was starting off. I have known him for a long time. Hearing his retirement today it is sad in one way but you have to celebrate what a great person as well as a player he is.
“He will be an excellent coach and I think as a character and person around Scotland he was unbelievable.
“He is a good leader and led from the front when he played. He is a good listener as well and takes on advice. That is a sign of a good leader. He was well respected by players and coaches from other nations, with his after-match speeches and play on the pitch.”
Those speeches were all the more impressive for the fact that Brown has battled a stammer since a young age and Taylor added: “For someone to get up and speak in front of the group, which he did on many occasions, it is unbelievable and shows the character of the guy.
“I have so much time for him. I caught up with him after the Saracens game [at the start of the month when Glasgow were beaten in the European Champions Cup quarter-final and Brown featured off the bench against his former club] and rang him during the weeks to get his views on Glasgow and to pick his brains. I loved his singing.
“He was a humble guy and proud of his roots. Nobody in rugby circles in the northern hemisphere would speak badly about Kelly.”
Brown is also a renowned singer and took lead vocals in 2012 when a Rugby Choir performed in BBC Sport Relief.
“I’ve been incredibly fortunate I’ve got to do the job I love for 13 seasons,” said Brown. “I’m still in good shape, so I could have carried on playing, but coaching is something I’ve been doing a lot of over the last couple of seasons.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity and one I’m very excited about. I’ve thought about it from both sides. I’ve been involved in a lot of games, but I haven’t been playing a huge amount of minutes, so maybe I wouldn’t be feeling as good physically if I had played more.”
Brown featured in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups but when he failed to make the 2015 squad he admitted that it was probably the end of the road for him in a dark blue jersey.
“To be able to captain my country, I feel very lucky to have done that,” he said. “I loved every minute I got to play for Scotland.
“You do feel slightly detached from it because it was something I was involved in for so long and I would have loved to have been involved over the last few years.
“But that wasn’t to be. I’m a Scotland fan and I’ve got a lot of friends in that team, so it’s been great to see them flourish.”
Taylor certainly hopes that Brown will be back in Scotland at some point in the future.
“He is working in the academy at Saracens. The way they work, hopefully the next step is to move him into the top team. He could come back to Scotland coaching set-up sometime down the track in some capacity which would be great for the game.
“He played for his country and captaining his country will hold a lot of weight. People will know he knows what he is talking about. I think he is going to have a great future in coaching.
“A Scotland coach one day? I can’t see why not. If he keeps developing he can. He has taken his first steps in the academy and there will be further steps along the way. I would love to think he could be part of the Scotland coaching set-up one day. I would love to think someone of his calibre will be involved in the coaching of the national team.”
Taylor, meanwhile, is focused on preparing Glasgow for Friday evening’s visit of Zebre. Hopes of reaching the Guinness Pro12 play-offs are all but over, but the defence coach insists there is no feeling that the holidays have come early.
“We are all really disappointed, particularly in the last two weeks’ results,” he said. “Dropping out of Europe, the way we performed in the game was not great and then, again, a close loss to Munster. Three out of the four games have been really close and that is disappointing.
“What we stressed was that there are a number of people moving on, players and coaches. The other thing we stressed was that in the five years I have been at this club we have never lost to an Italian team home or away. That is something I am proud of.
“For me as a coach, I want to hold that record intact and that starts this weekend.
“Those things are things that motivate us. There will be guys given opportunities this week, people rotated, people rested and people injured. That means there are people coming into the team and given an opportunity to perform.”