Hulking Houston Texan JJ Watt is one of the NFL’s most domineering players. As part of his personal preseason schedule, the defensive end dedicates entire days to flipping a 1,000lb tyre. Last summer, he managed it 65 times.
Speaking to HBO documentary Hard Knocks, Watt said the feat was far less to do with his freakish physical prowess than ingrained, unyielding tenacity. The crucial thing was to “create that chip on your shoulder”. Though Watt’s tyre weighs around five-times more than him, such an attitude resonates with Mike Brown.
“I can relate to that,” he explains. “For me, it’s never been easy. I’ve always had to work so hard. I wouldn’t change that. It’s made me the player I am today.
“I didn’t go to a school that played rugby. I didn’t always get selected for county teams, for divisional teams. I never played schoolboy England.
“It was only when I was in the Harlequins set-up when I was 20 that I managed to get into England Under-21s.”
Brown, now 30, is in a philosophical mood. The man who endured four years of international exile between his third and fourth Tests has just become the most capped full-back in England history.
A central protagonist in four consecutive second-placed finishes, he can finally boast a Six Nations Championship. But satisfaction will not descend yet.
“It’s been a tough journey,” says Brown. “A lot of us were fed up of coming second, so now we’ve actually won it, it’s a bit odd. England have won a Grand Slam only 12 times in 120 years. It doesn’t come around often, so we have a special opportunity.
“Losing the last game as champions wouldn’t sit well, so nothing changes. We want to finish on a high in France.”
Along with the likes of Dan Cole, Owen Farrell and Chris Robshaw, Brown survived a nightmare World Cup campaign. He remains a senior statesman with England following the transition between head coaches Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones.
While he does not condemn the previous regime, Brown clearly enjoys the new one. Jones has refreshed an exhausted set-up, injecting pace and purpose.
PLAN OF ATTACK
Last weekend, a magnificent first 50 minutes established a 19-0 lead over Wales. Brown admits England were nervy in Scotland and Italy, but rates their latest efforts as one of the best international performances he has been involved in.
“Eddie wants us to go at teams, playing really quick, moving the ball into space when it is on with guys running direct lines and being physical,” he explains. “Against a Welsh team that prides itself on defence, we made them look uncomfortable. Everyone has said that Wales didn’t turn up. I honestly believe it was the way we attacked that made them look like that.
“They didn’t know whether we were coming through them, around them or picking through rucks. We were playing from anywhere and trying everything.
“Then we switched off a bit, which was disappointing. To make them look a bit average at times, with their Lions players and given what they have achieved as a team, was great.”
Stopped only by Dan Biggar, Brown might have landed an early score to bury Wales before their late resurgence. Even so, he surpassed Matt Perry’s record of 33 appearances in England’s number 15 shirt by beating seven tacklers on the way to a return of 139 running metres.
Close to his bristling best, Brown was sparked by the razor competitive edge that also encourages him to reference Wales’ British and Irish Lions. You sense the mention comes because Brown has not been on a tour, but is itching to prove himself worthy of one.
Sheer competitiveness often comes across as petulance. Who could forget the raw, prickly angst of Brown’s interview in the wake of World Cup defeat to Wales? This makes him an easy target for trolling, something that intensified after his boot connected with the head of Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray a fortnight ago.
“There was a bit of heat,” he says. “People who wanted to have a dig at me jumped on it. It wasn’t nice, but I’ve been given some good advice – along the lines that only I know my intentions in every action. No one else can. As long as I’m happy, that’s all that matters.
“I’m only human. You do end up taking things to heart. I haven’t been on Twitter since the Ireland game because of the vile stuff. I couldn’t be bothered with it really.”
On Saturday, Brown surprised some spectators by aiding Luke Charteris after the Wales lock had dislocated his finger. At the final whistle, Brown shared a joke with Biggar (pictured, left). Still, he laughs at the suggestion he might have softened.
“I always try to be one of the first to shake hands. And if somebody’s finger is sticking out of the ruck at a wrong angle, you don’t like to see that. Luckily for him it was just a finger.
“I try to be as competitive as possible without crossing that line. People will always see what they want to see and say what they want to say. I can’t change that. They’ll judge me how they want to.”
Comfortable in his own skin but never content, Brown is fixed on overturning France. Part of the outfit that fell to a Gael Fickou’s heart-breaker in Paris in 2014, he knows the individual assets of Les Bleus. However, there is no trepidation. Call it confidence, call it a chip on the shoulder – he appears assured.