SARACENS may have had little but bad publicity over the past year or so, and are about to be relegated from the Gallagher Premiership because of a penalty imposed for a breach of the salary-cap regulations. But Kelly Brown, for one, believes that, financial misdemeanours apart, the English and European champions are still worthy of emulation in some respects – above all, in terms of the culture they have successfully embedded in their squad.
Having spent a decade with Saracens from 2010, first as a player then as a coach, Brown saw that culture flourish and bloom. Now back at his old team Glasgow as forwards coach under Danny Wilson, the former Scotland international is convinced that many of the things he learned at his former employers can come in useful at Scotstoun.
“In spite of everything that happened at Saracens over the past year – it’s been turbulent, which is maybe quite an understatement – but it’s a club that in my opinion does a lot of stuff right, and I want to bring a lot of the good bits up to Glasgow,” the 38-year-old said. “The thing that amazed me the most when I went to Saracens was we never spoke about winning. We said ‘Let’s go and make some memories’, and I thought that was a brilliant way to do it.
“I know that ultimately professional sport is about winning, but I just thought as a way to take all the pressure off the players it was an amazing way to do it. That changed over the years as the club has had success, and they do speak about it a little bit more, but I thought it was a great way to do it. Let’s just focus on making unbelievable memories and if you do that you win games.
“Ultimately it’s all about caring for people. A lot of people had this ethos – and they still do – to keep people keen, treat them mean. At Sarries it was the exact opposite. That’s certainly how I like to operate, and it’s something I’ll definitely keep in the forefront of my mind at Glasgow.”
While Brown had always kept in close touch with Scottish rugby in general and his old club in particular, his return came out of the blue as a consequence of the coaching reshuffle at the national team and the Warriors. With forwards coach John Dalziel moving to join Gregor Townsend’s set-up at Murrayfield, Wilson recognised that Brown would be a good fit, and invited him to join.
“It was sudden,” explained Brown, who will focus on contact and lineout defence in his new role. “I’d been speaking to Danny, because I’d done a bit of stuff with Scotland over the past two or three years.
“So I’d got to know him and we’d speak every now and again to discuss ideas around contact and that sort of stuff. Then we had a couple of calls over the lockdown period to discuss things we were looking at, at our different clubs.
“And then I got a call from him and he said there was an opportunity and would I be keen? And it’s a club I know and love, and hard as it was to leave Saracens, I was very excited about the opportunity to come back to Scotland.”
Brown has always been known for his humility and down-to-earth approach, and although at Saracens he was part of an organisation that won three European crowns and five domestic titles in the past decade, he is certainly not going to presume that such success makes him uniquely knowledgeable at Glasgow.
“I think every culture is slightly different, and there’s no way I’m going to come up and say, ‘I’ve been at Saracens, I know all this stuff’,” he explained. “There are little bits and pieces I can definitely bring up.
“In Glasgow, when I played there, and speaking to those who have been here in the last ten years, it’s a club with a great culture and a really good environment. I’m not coming in to try and change everything, but there are little bits and pieces that I do feel we can add and improve, because we are striving to get better. And if there’s something I can add to help us as a group, then I’ll do it.”
This season could well prove the ideal opportunity for Brown to try out those little bits and pieces. With well over a dozen internationals likely to be unavailable for two large chunks of the coming campaign, the coaching team will have a relatively untried squad to deal with on many match days. And the quicker the coaches can cultivate a positive spirit, the more quickly those inexperienced players will mature.
“Whilst at times it’s going to be a challenging season with all the internationalists away, I think it’s also really exciting to get to coach these guys, because they’re so young and enthusiastic,” Brown added. “It’s a brilliant opportunity for them to play, but also for us as coaches to really coach them and to make a difference.
“You’re going to see some players over the course of this season that have not played a lot of games for us, but I think that’s exciting, not just for us but also for the future of Scottish rugby, because I expect a number of those guys to be kicking on and challenging for international honours over the coming years.
“The guys I’m excited about seeing are guys like Jamie Dobie. He’s an exciting young 9 – he is very young, but it’s going to be exciting to see where he goes.
“Guys like Tom Gordon in the back-row – I’ve not seen a lot of him, but I thought he was very good in the second Edinburgh game. And a number of other guys like that, who are going to get opportunities that in a normal season would not have got as many.”