Apr 28, 2017
Brown reflects on memorable career ahead of final game
Kelly Brown will run out onto the Allianz Park turf tomorrow to make his final Saracens appearance.
Since signing for Saracens from his beloved Glasgow Warriors, the Scotland loose forward has been a vital cog in the Saracens machine, carving out the reputation as one of the game’s finest back rowers on his time in the Black and Red of Sarries.
His time at Saracens has seen the highs of being named Scotland skipper, Aviva Premiership final winner (on three occasions, a key member of a side that smashed the record for points accumulated in a regular Premiership season (2013/14) and helped the club win their maiden Champions Cup trophy.
His stay at Saracens also witnessed the lows of his perplexing omission from the Scotland national side, a broken leg away to Treviso and the double final disappointment at Cardiff and Twickenham in May 2014.
Yet Brown remains upbeat, and the amiable Scot says he has cherished every minute since he crossed Hadrian’s Wall in the summer of 2010.
On his time at Saracens, Brown said: “I love it here. It’s different to most places, but I love it. I consider myself very, very lucky to be here, and the way the club have treated myself and my family is second to none.
“When the opportunity came up to leave Glasgow, it was a hard decision in some aspects, but an easy one in others. It was hard because I had grown to love the club. We had a great squad there, with some great people. I was excited by a different challenge, by playing in a different league and testing myself in the Premiership, as I had played in Scotland for six years.
“For me I was just really excited about Saracens. I was aware that in the previous year before I signed there was a lot of change at the club with new management. I remember coming down for the first time on a snowy day to the training ground in St Albans and I met Brendan and Edward (Griffiths) and I was really excited by what they had to say about the place. I was sold by the vision they had for the club, so I signed.
“I singed after Saracens had won their first nine or ten matches of the season, then they went on a three or four match losing streak and I started to panic a little bit (laughs). I think that’s when the squad had their famous trip to Brighton, where they had a few beers and spoke to each other about what the club was about and it seemed to give them the surge they needed to get to the Premiership final that season. For me it was great to see the players Saracens had at the time, and the spirit they had really impressed me. For me it was a team that was going places, and a team that would win things, I couldn’t wait to be part of it.
“That first season was brilliant. Straight away I was taken aback by the whole ethos of the club - that if you work unbelievably hard, they will treat you unbelievably well. I loved the idea of that, and still do. I remember in the first week in pre-season the coaches distinguished between what was a skill error and what was an effort error and that really struck a chord with me, as it essentially said if I try my hardest then I can’t mess up.
“It was a very tight-knit squad, and still is now. The whole time I’ve been here we’ve had the collective conviction that as a unit we can do something special together, and if that comes with silverware attached, then great! The Premiership final win was a brilliant moment for us all. I still think it was the most exciting ends to a final ever, we defended something like 36 phases, and Leicester were camped on our line for minutes on end. We were able to hold out. It was a great feeling.”
After the ecstasy of winning a Premiership title, a cruel twist of fate meant Brown suffered what he admits was his first serious injury, when he dislocated his fibula in a Heineken Cup trip away to Italian side Treviso.
“The club were fantastic throughout, and there was never any pressure put on me by the club to rush back. I was naturally pretty upset at the time, and even more so as three days earlier I had just been asked by Scotland if I would be captain for the very first time. I think I allowed myself, or if I’m being honest, my wife allowed me, about a week and a half of feeling sorry for myself and then it was a case of being positive. I found out during that period that I can be quite the stubborn guy, but I can use that to my advantage so I threw everything into getting back to full-fitness.”
Brown returned that season and continued to show his value to a Saracens side that were evolving as they readied themselves to move from Vicarage Road to Allianz Park, in a move Brown believes has been “a huge success”.
In recent years, Brown has moved into more a squad role, with one eye on progressing his career in rugby from the playing side to becoming a coach. Earlier this month (April), Saracens were delighted to announce that Kelly will be taking up a role in the club’s highly successful academy, as a coach.
“We have been very fortunate to have him at Saracens as a player and it’s brilliant news that he’ll remain at the Club as a coach,” said director of rugby, Mark McCall on Brown’s addition to the academy coaching staff.
“Kelly has made an enormous contribution in his seven years at Saracens. On the field, Kelly has been unbelievably consistent setting a superb example to our younger players, constantly giving everything he had. Off the field, he is one of the most selfless people you’ll ever meet, always putting the team first - his decency and humility have always shone through in his time here.
“Qualities such as these have been extremely important in establishing our culture at Saracens and Kelly is the embodiment of them, so it’s very exciting to have a man of his stature and integrity working with the next crop of younger players looking to make their way through the ranks at the Club.”
Brown, 34-years-old, has captained the Saracens Storm, coached by Ian Vass this season allowing him to see the next group of young players in the heat of battle. Brown, who won 64 Scotland caps, said; “This season I have had a split Saracens role – I am a player and also an Academy coach. It has been done with a view to me becoming a full-time Academy coach and so playing for the Storm is really important. I can see things in a game that as a coach you won’t see from the touchline.
“I helped coach the Navy last season in the inter-services competition and I will be doing that again this season with the game against the Army at the end of April at Twickenham. I was thinking about my future and about three years ago I sat down and asked myself what was my passion and it was rugby. Therefore, it makes sense to go into coaching when I finish playing. I do have the knowledge from playing, but coaching is also about how you speak to players and the emotional side of the role.
“That is something that I feel I am strong at and in the summer, I did my level Two coaching and next summer it will be Level Three because with the playing and the coaching it is incredibly full-on at the moment. I won’t have time until next summer.”
Brown was labelled a ‘club legend’ by McCall earlier this week. McCall is man his doesn’t dish our superlatives on a whim, but Brown’s impact in his seven years on the pitch has been seismic. Good news for Saracens is, his huge impact off the field shows no signs of ending anytime soon.