Four day turnaround is tough but not an excuse, says Fraser Brown

30-year-old is happy to play hooker or flanker in Scotland's tricky match against Russia, which is just four days before must-win Japan clash

Fraser Brown
Fraser Brown on a school visit to Meishin Elementary School in Kobe. Image: © Craig Watson -
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FRASER BROWN says he is equally happy to play his usual position of hooker, or his previous primary position of open-side flanker, when Scotland take on Russia next Wednesday. After spending most of the summer fighting his way back to full fitness following a foot injury sustained during Glasgow Warriors’ PRO14 Grand Final defeat to Leinster, the 30-year-old is just delighted to get any game time he can.

With third-choice hooker George Turner also desperate for a run-out having not been involved in either of Scotland’s first two World Cup outings against Ireland and Samoa, and Scotland having just five out-and-out back-row players in the squad, the smart money is on Brown wearing the No7 jersey against Russia so that as many front-liners as possible can be rested ahead of the do-or-die Japan clash.

Brown played 43 minutes off the bench at open-side flanker as an injury replacement for Hamish Watson in Scotland’s tournament opener against Ireland, and was previously deployed there against the USA and Japan during last summer’s tour of the Americas, with head coach Gregor Townsend making it clear at that time that his selection was with one eye on maximising resources at the World Cup.

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“I just get told every week that I have to know the roles of both two and seven, because you never really know what is going to happen in rugby,” said Brown. “It might happen, or it might not happen, or it might happen halfway through a game – so, the way rugby is nowadays, you just have to prepare for every eventuality.

“Obviously, after my summer which was a little bit disrupted as opposed to everyone else’s, it was just a real positive thing for me to be fit to play [off the bench] against Ireland and then again at the weekend. Yes, I’ll be hoping to get a little bit more game time next week.”

Having two matches of such importance just four days apart seems crazy at a time of heightened concern about the brutal physicality of professional rugby, but the need to get through 40 pool games inside a three-and-a-half week window makes it almost inevitable – and it is worth remembering that Scotland are not the only team in this boat.

One obvious and very achievable way of reducing the strain on players would be to increase World Cup squad sizes from 31 so that there is more scope for coaches to rotate their squads, which is something that World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper had said will be considered ahead of the next tournament in France in 2019. That is an approach Brown would endorse.

“You just have to look at the progression of rugby over the last couple of years, the physical demands of it – the sport asks a lot of the players,” agreed Brown. “Don’t get me wrong, World Cups are meant to be challenging. It’s not meant to be easy. The reason you’re selected to go to the World Cup is because you’re a good player, but it’s meant to be a challenge to be able to perform and win.

“But 31-man squads leaves you open to disadvantages in your squad, because you’ve got to pick … well, most teams go with five props, three scrum-halves and three hookers, but some teams have gone with two scrum-halves, and four years ago someone went with two hookers … so, you’ve got to take gambles and hope that luck is going to be on your side. It isn’t ideal.

“It does put a lot of strain on players, particularly now when we’re talking about player welfare and HIAs being a massive focus for the past two or three years. You only have to look at other aspects of the game, predominantly the ruck to see the risk that players are at now. So, 31 is probably too few but it’s the parameters that we’ve got to work with here.”

Despite the inherent challenges of a four-day turnaround, Brown says that there will be no excuse for a sub-par performance against either Russia or Japan.

“It’ll be difficult, you can’t hide away from the fact it’s difficult to play two test matches in four or five days. There will be tired guys who will probably play in both games – whether they start both or come off the bench – but we’ve known this for a long time, you’ve got to get your head round it,” he said.

“It will be something some haven’t experienced before but it is what it is. You just need to get on with it, get your head in it, get ready for Russia and as soon as that game against Russia is finished get prepared properly in the time we have for Japan.”

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About David Barnes 3989 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.