Scotland captain Kelly Brown is wary of opponents’ new drive to make their forwards competitive
SCOTLAND captain Kelly Brown has warned his side to be ready for new Japanese forward strength at Murrayfield on Saturday, and warned supporters to be patient in the clamour for an opening autumn Test win.
After missing the Tests with South Africa and Italy on the summer tour due to an ankle injury, the 31-year-old Saracens flanker is back for Scotland and in the less familiar No 7 jersey in a formidable back row alongside David Denton and Alasdair Strokosch.
The Japanese are known for their slick skills and pace and wide movement in attack, but Brown is aware of a new drive to make their forward pack more direct and competitive, through his club and the former England skipper Steve Borthwick, taken on by the Japanese as a coach for this month’s tour.
“He does their lineouts, and he absolutely loves lineouts,” explained Brown. “So they’re strong there and their scrum is good, so we will need to be switched on to all the options because it’s going to be an incredibly tough match.
“Eddie Jones [current Japan head coach] was at Saracens and so that’s how Steve got involved. We’ve been sounding each other out over the past month and we flew up on the same flight on Sunday and he was asking me the team, but I told him he would find out in due course.
“I’m not giving much away but I do know that they want to get a better balance to their game and we will definitely need to be patient.
“It has been well documented that they beat Wales in the summer and, okay, it wasn’t a full-strength Wales team but we’ve obviously been watching a lot of footage and they’re a side that likes to play.
“But they’re also trying to get a bit more balance in their game through a good set-piece and the physical guys in their team. They are a side that is improving all of the time and we will have to make sure that we’re sharp in all aspects of our game. We’re expecting a battle out there and if we’re not right on our game it’s going to be very tough.”
Brown is a coach’s dream as a captain, a clear, hard-edged leader on the pitch who makes few mistakes, and an avid learner off it whose open approach to and knowledge of the game demands respect from team-mates and coaches alike.
His desire to push himself as a rugby player and forge a successful career in England, and also to seek professional help to tackle a stammer and improve his public speaking, which he admits had a negative effect on his confidence throughout the early part of his career, has only heightened that.
Having watched his fellow Borderer Greig Laidlaw lead the team well in his absence in South Africa, he may have feared losing the captain’s role, but he explained that his relationship with Laidlaw and head coach Scott Johnson is such that fear did not come into it.
“There’s no doubt that it’s a huge honour to captain Scotland,” he said. “In the summer, yes, it was a bit of a low point [being injured] but all I could do was focus on making sure I worked as hard as I could and I feel I’ve done that, and am playing well, so it’s great that I’ve been asked to captain the side again.
“But I don’t think it’s a battle between me and Greig. We work well as a team and if Greig had been captain we’d still have worked as a team. Both of us speak all the time, about ways we can improve the side, and we’ll continue to do that and I don’t think it really matters who is the actual captain.
“I feel incredibly lucky when I’m asked to do it. It’s the sort of thing as a boy you always dream of doing, but, particularly with my stammer, it’s the sort of thing that I would look at and dream of, but never actually think would happen, so to get to do it is a massive honour.
“But I just focus on one game at a time and making sure that I’m playing well so that I can justify my spot in the side.”
He does remember his introduction to a captain’s life, delayed by injury and then accepted as Scotland embarked on a three-game losing run last autumn that led to the departure of coach Andy Robinson. Questions were inevitably asked about his own ability to lead at the time and make the right decisions in the heat of battle.
Brown has since enjoyed a rare third-place finish in the Six Nations, set his own tone among the squad and, with Laidlaw and Ryan Grant as trusted lieutenants and a reliable core of experience in the side buoyed by fresh new talent, he believes that the squad is better physically and mentally than this time last year.
“I certainly feel that we’re in a better place,” he said. “We improved over the Six Nations and summer and ten guys got their caps on tour so the player base is also growing, and you’ve got to be playing well if you want to stay in this side.
“I don’t really look back. I feel I’ve learned a few things [from last autumn] and as a side we’ve learned a few things as well. The key for me is that we start well. If we do that and play well on Saturday I’m sure it will put us in a good place.”