Interview: Fraser Brown, Rugby player
THREE years ago there was a buzz about the Scotland under-20 squad that would, so the whispers insisted, produce at least two top-notch international players. Leave them to bake properly and the pair of them would be ready to hit the big time in a year or two.
One of those young prospects was lock Richie Gray and, whatever troubles are afflicting Sale’s toothless Sharks at the bottom of the Aviva Premiership table, there is no doubting that the big fella is worth the £300,000-odd salary that the Manchester club are paying him. Hooker Fraser Brown was the other star turn in that under-20 side and he is now earning approximately £300,000 less than Gray turning out at flanker for Heriot’s.
“I know better than most that you simply can’t tell what might be around the next corner,” says a cautious Brown. “I suppose that, if things had turned out differently, then I could have been somewhere around the same level as Richie but I am hoping that I can get myself to a position where I might still get to that level.”
Brown is a stark reminder of the old proverb “there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip” and one of the slips in question occurred to a disc in the hooker’s neck which, coming after repeated shoulder injuries, meant that the man once seemingly destined for the pinnacle of the sport has scarcely kicked a ball in anger these last few years.
His problems started in a Friday night match under floodlights at McDiarmid Park in Perth in 2009, when Brown led that Scotland under-20 team against Wales in the Six Nations.
Brown has a rumbustious style of play whereby someone is always liable to end up on an A&E trolley. On the night it question it was Brown himself who was led from the field nursing a dislocated shoulder.
The story is not new. The hooker had an operation, he returned too early and the front row is as unforgiving as the hills, a pressured environment in a very literal sense where every little weakness is rigorously exploited. Another dislocation, another operation and that was followed up by a disc in his neck going walkabout. If someone out there is making busy with a pin and a voodoo doll it is working a treat.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. Former Scotland flanker John Jeffrey managed the youth team at the time and likened Brown’s single-minded determination to that of Scotland’s 1990 Grand Slam skipper David Sole.
Scotland coach Andy Robinson had Brown gathering statistics on the national team from the back of the Murrayfield stand while he was injured, just to get the hooker involved. The great and the good all had the outstanding player of his age group heading straight for the Scotland squad, with many pencilling him in as captain, although Ross Ford might have something to say on both counts.
So where does he stand now?
“I haven’t given up on a professional contract,” replied Brown when the question was put to him. “But obviously if I am going to get one I need to be playing in the front row on a regular basis and I remind Phil Smith [the Heriot’s coach] about that pretty much every day of the week. I managed to get 65 minutes in the front row last weekend so that was a start.
“When I arrived for pre-season there was a gap in the back row which I was happy to fill but now I have been called in to train with Glasgow and I am finding that difficult because the last time I played hooker week in and week out was for Melrose when I was an Edinburgh apprentice back in 2010, so it’s tough.”
He claims the pro-team stint at Scotstoun is just a temporary gig but Brown also appeared in Glasgow’s 38-strong Heineken Cup squad when it was released last week, filling in for the injured Pat MacArthur, which puts him back in the spotlight, or at least at the edge of it.
Now Brown has been given the all clear, he is keen to kick-start his professional career, but the question is where?
If Wales still has a stand-off factory of repute located in the valleys, then Scotland has a sub-division churning out hookers by the handful.
When the professional teams can afford to jettison Fergus Thomson and Sean Crombie, they are obviously dealing from a position of strength.
Andy Robinson has the luxury of selecting from any one of three hugely experienced hookers in Ford, Scott Lawson and Dougie Hall, while the likes of MacArthur, Finlay Gillies and Alun Walker are breathing down their necks.
It’s another old story. Scotland having just two pro teams means limited opportunities and the hooker may have to move elsewhere to realise his dream.
Perhaps Brown will hook up with Gray once more: Sale look like they could do with some of his bloody-minded determination.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east