Interview: Kelly Brown on Saracens Wolfpack hunting for Glasgow

Kelly Brown played for both Glasgow and Saracens. Now his loyalties lie with Sarries. Picture: SNS
Kelly Brown played for both Glasgow and Saracens. Now his loyalties lie with Sarries. Picture: SNS
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He may have spent several years in Glasgow’s colours, played more than 80 times for the Warriors and been an integral member of that famous “Killer Bs” breakaway unit but Kelly Brown has no mixed loyalties this afternoon.

“I have to say Saracens,” he replies when asked who he fancies in this afternoon’s Champions Cup opener between his former and his current club.

“I am a Saracens coach. What I do know is that it is going to be a helluva battle. I think it will be won and lost up front; it’s a bit of a cliche but I think it’s true.

“You’ve got to have dominance and it makes things easier if you do. That will be the starting point, especially with Glasgow signing an ex-Saracen last weekend!”

That ex-Saracen is South African prop Petrus du Plessis, who is a stand-in for the injured Zander Fagerson. He will know what is about to hit Glasgow because the big man is a one-time member of rugby’s most notorious gang, the Saracens Wolfpack.

It was an original idea of former Saracens defence coach Paul Gustard “to put a story around our defence” according to Brown or to make defence “the fun part of the game” according to rugby guru Will Greenwood.

Either way the simple idea of getting everyone to act as one in defence has grown arms, legs and now teeth. You can now join the Wolfpack club to take advantage of any number of discounts and get a trademarked beanie. You can even buy Wolfpack Lager, the brainchild of former Saracens’ players Chris Wyles and Alistair Hargreaves, from the Wolfpack bus at home matches.

If you still don’t know what the Wolfpack is, you will see it in action this afternoon when the Saracens rush defence “sack” an opposition player well behind the gainline. Expect to see a forest of high fives and more whooping and hollering than an early Elvis gig. If you didn’t know better you would swear it was designed to intimidate the opposition.

“In terms of all the whooping and hollering, it is something we do for ourselves,” Brown argues. “It’s all about energy. We try to build energy and we do that by celebrating, we celebrate our success. If it goes well we celebrate and if it doesn’t go well we are all together and we help pick each other up.

“I have never played against it, I don’t know the effect. We do it for us, it’s not meant to intimidate anyone else, it’s just something we do for ourselves. When we do it right, which we don’t always, it can be very effective.”

The Scotstoun crowd know what to expect from Dave Rennie’s team but one way to keep the Wolfpack at bay is to not give them any target.

We should expect to see Adam Hastings kick a lot more than usual, especially in the opening 20 minutes, and down town rather than looking for touch. If you don’t give the pack a target to chase, the theory goes, like any predator they will eventually lose interest.

The young Warriors’ ten has been a revelation this season, player of the month for September, and he is sure to have a bullseye on his chest along with some of Glasgow’s slighter backs.

“As a Scot it’s been great to see Adam doing so well. With Finn [Russell] leaving, there was obviously an opening there and he’s taken it,” says Brown. “He is a very, very good player. I played against him a few times when he was in the Bath second team and he is certainly one of the threats that we need to take care of.

“To say we have a special plan for him is not true but he is the stand-off for his team and any side wants to put the opposition stand-off under pressure. I imagine that Glasgow will do exactly the same thing to Owen Farrell.

“I think if you are talking about smaller backs… Huw Jones is a big boy, Alex Dunbar is a big boy and Nick Grigg is not the tallest but very stocky and powerful so I would disagree with that assumption.

“I think Glasgow have big backs who can mix it and, in general, the Scottish backs in the Six Nations 
did alright. And so I don’t think it’s an issue or something to worry about.”

What we can worry about is some of Sarries’ big ball carriers and they don’t come any bigger than Billy Vumipola, back to his best after a long time sidelined with injury.

“To be fair not many teams have a 135kgs No 8,” says Brown. “They are fairly rare but Glasgow have a lot of other strengths; they have a lot of speed, they have a lot of power and I imagine that they will try to shift Saracens around because we obviously have a fairly big pack.

“I imagine that Glasgow will try to fight fire with fire up front and then try to catch us out with speed.”

Meanwhile, we should thank the one-time Scotland skipper for the fact that Du Plessis joined Glasgow just in time to turn out against his former club.

Petrus starts on the bench but he could be called upon in short order if Mako Vunipola gets the better of Darcy Rae, the Glasgow tighthead.

The veteran South African prop only moved north after checking in with his one-time colleague.

“He actually played for our A-team a couple of weeks ago,” Brown recalls.

“He came in on loan and he played a game and then last week he phoned me to ask about Glasgow and all that sort of stuff. I said that it was a fantastic club and that I would always be a Glasgow fan and it holds a special place in my heart... just not on Sunday.”