After a stuttering, stilted start to the season, Harlequins have hit their stride. Home losses early on to Northampton, Saracens and the Scarlets saw many predicting that they had been worked out; that their no-holds-barred, free-flowing style of play had finally been found out.
No-one epitomises this sense of adventure better than Mike Brown, the one man whose form perhaps never faltered. Brown says that, despite those disappointing early losses, Quins never questioned themselves or their style of play.
“We were always confident in the way we play,” says the England fullback. “It suits the type of players we have in this squad, and it’s been good for us over the last few years. We’ve won the LV Cup, and the Premiership, so we had confidence in the style of play we wanted to implement, I just don’t think we were delivering that on the pitch.”
It is a positive time to be a Harlequin. They have developed not only a winning formula, but an attractive brand of rugby too. But earlier in the season, says Brown, there was an element of complacency in their play that hindered them.
“There was maybe a bit of complacency there earlier on. We weren’t playing our game, and hoping that things would just happen, and in these competitions with the quality of teams that we play, that’s just not going to happen.”
That has changed now though, and Brown is relieved that the Quins style is back up and running.
“The physicality in our game has increased, we’ve got our tempo back and our confidence has returned too. We’re playing some really good rugby.”
One of the most encouraging aspects of Harlequins as a rugby club is their commitment to bringing through young English players, and this season has been no different. In recent weeks it has been Charlie Walker making the headlines, but there are also the likes of Sam Smith, Matt Hopper, Tom Casson and Luke Wallace, all of whom have enjoyed breakout seasons in recent years. As a man who experienced this himself a few seasons ago, Brown is proud to say it is an integral part of the Quins system.
“It’s great to see the young guys come through in just the way that myself, Robbo (George Robson) and people like that have done so in the past,” he says. “It’s great to see that the academy is producing top quality players, that, once they’re given that opportunity to play, they’re really taking it and putting their hand up for selection. We want to be a majority English club, and it’s great that these guys are proving that it works.”
Brown is in the form of his life at the moment, and that was reflected in his winning of the Man of the Series award for the QBE Autumn Internationals recently. It is all the more impressive when you consider that the pack took most of the plaudits for their victories, and the backs were largely vilified for being ineffective. The Harlequins fullback says that despite their wins, it is the final loss to the All Blacks that sticks with him the most.
“It was great to win those first two games against quality teams, but it was disappointing to lose that last game when we definitely could have gone on and won it. We’ll take what we can from the loss, in terms of learning about how we can finish games off. They’re the best in the world and they’re there for a reason, so to push a team like that for 60 minutes is brilliant.”
But while New Zealand may currently be out in front, Brown says they are confident they can catch them by the 2015 World Cup.
“We can definitely catch them, we’ve got a great chance on home soil. We’ve shown that we can beat them last year, and as I said we’re on a journey which ends at the World Cup. We’re still learning, every time we come together, and we’ve got guys pushing in every position now which is great for our squad.”
Next up for Brown and Harlequins is Big Game 6 at Twickenham against Exeter, and if the fullback’s fantastic form continues, another Quins win is on the cards.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
IG, the financial derivatives trading company, are lead sponsors of Big Game 6 and as part of their ‘Brighter Together’ campaign will be offering fans the chance to reveal their inner Harlequin at Twickenham Stadium on the 28th December