Fraser Brown: Scotland hooker on fatherhood, nappies & missing rugby

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Scotland and Glasgow Warriors hooker Fraser Brown
Fraser Brown hopes to add to his 50 Scotland caps when rugby action returns

All credit to Fraser Brown for the things he has done on the rugby field this season, but the truth is that the best performer in the Scotland and Glasgow Warriors hooker's household by the length of Scotstoun Stadium and back again has been his wife.

Jen only a few weeks ago managed to give birth to their first child, a boy so big that some family members might be minded to gift him a tackle bag instead of a baby grow.

Theo was born three days before the Wales game that never was. Like the rest of us, his parents are in Covid-19 lockdown in the house they moved into in February.

“It’s a bit of a bomb site,” Brown says. “There’s stuff hanging off the walls. The plan was to do it up, but everything’s on hold now. Nobody’s coming to stay any time soon anyway, so I suppose we can relax.”

The barn out the back has become a makeshift gym, a place to train and think about what might lie ahead in what remains of the rugby season.

“We’re walking a bit of a tightrope as players at the minute in that we have to keep active, but we also have to use this as downtime," the 30-year-old says. "It’s a chance to rest, mentally more than anything else.

“What’s happening in the world is so tragic and everybody is just trying to manage their way through it. I genuinely think that this break is going to extend players’ careers, particularly the older guys who have been professional for a while and have had injuries.

"In rugby, the only time you get a chance to rest is four weeks in the summer and when you get injured. At the end of the Six Nations, and following on from the World Cup, everybody is battered and bruised, then you get a week off and you go again. Glasgow would be going straight into a series of must-wins in the Pro14, then it would be the summer tour to South Africa and New Zealand.

"To have what will probably be at least eight weeks without rugby is, in a physical sense anyway, really good for players. The mental side is different.”

Fraser Brown (left) in action for Glasgow Warriors
Fraser Brown (left) thinks rugby players could benefit from the unscheduled break in their schedule

'We have to look after each other'

Mental health is a subject Brown has spoken about powerfully in the past. He’s had his own challenges to overcome and knows the dangers as well as anybody.

Striking the right balance between activity and rest will be easier for some more than others. “You’re not training for anything," he says. "There’s no target to hit, no game to prepare for, no place to fight for.

"Players will find that difficult. In the grand scheme of things, we’ve got nothing to worry about, but the uncertainty of where rugby is at right now will unsettle people. It’s only natural.

"You can’t sit and bleat given what’s going on elsewhere, but boys will be worried about contracts; they’ll be worried about what’s next if their deal is up in the summer. There’s families to think about.

"Rugby players are not immune to the same kind of pressures that a lot of other people feel. What we’re trying to do is stay connected as a squad as best we can. We’re making sure that everybody is doing OK and, if somebody’s not doing OK then we’re here to support. We have to look after each other.”

As it stands, nobody in Scottish Rugby has had their wage cut. Some executives have taken a wage deferral.

The finances of the union are better than they have been in decades, but the longer this thing goes on the more probable it becomes that a new course of action has to be taken.

"With football clubs, rugby clubs and other rugby unions taking swingeing action to avoid ruination, it’s fanciful to think that the SRU are going to sail on without any financial hardship," Brown says.

“If the organisation is in a position to not cut salaries then that’s great because it shows they’re financially strong at the minute. Everything is up in the air, though. Everything might change. You don’t know."

'Scotland are closer to being competitive'

The dream, of course, is that Brown is back playing soon, that come the autumn there will be games - and lots of them. The summer tour will go but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those Tests will be lost.

There is a chance - coronavirus-permitting - that as well as finishing off their one remaining Six Nations game in October, Scotland will then travel south to play the matches they were supposed to play in July (South Africa twice and then New Zealand) before going through their November Test series programme involving three Tests against Argentina, Japan and New Zealand.

Those home games are cash cows. The SRU will be ferociously determined to play them while trying to figure out the head-wrecking conundrum of how to do all that while playing a domestic and European club season at the same time.

After that, it’s the 2021 Six Nations. Then, for the chosen few, the British & Irish Lions tour. Players better enjoy their rest while they have it, because when rugby resumes it’s going to be unrelenting.

Fraser Brown at the centre of a Scotland team talk
Fraser Brown says Scotland are a stronger unit because of their new, more physical style

Scotland were denied a shot at Wales in Cardiff and with it a chance to show Warren Gatland, the Lions coach, that they’ve changed as players. Brown feels that the squad has turned a corner this year.

“If you were watching our games in the Six Nations from a purely entertainment point of view then it wasn’t the free-flowing, attacking rugby that Scotland has played before," he suggests. "From a professional point of view, it showed me that we’re closer now than we’ve ever been to becoming truly competitive.

“The shift we had was in respecting the role that pressure plays in international rugby. Build pressure and make them make mistakes. Before, we probably didn’t respect it enough and, when pressure was put on us, we made errors and conceded 10 or 15 points in the space of five or 10 minutes.

“This was a more enjoyable way to play, for myself anyway. All-out attacking rugby can rely on some individual bits of skill or an unbelievable talent, but playing with physicality and belligerence requires a whole team to deliver.

"You don’t depend on just one or two guys to produce the magic. Adam Hastings and Ali Price have flair, but they were also two of our best defenders in the Six Nations.

"As a forward, I can’t emphasise enough the boost it gives you to see guys who are capable of brilliant attacking rugby getting stuck into the hard graft in defence. It inspires you, it makes you work even harder and brings you together as a squad.”

Finn Russell is the magician he speaks of and he’ll be glad to him back after the Racing 92 fly-half settled his dispute with coach Gregor Townsend.

“I always thought he was going to come back," Brown says. "There just needed to be a decent amount of time for things to be settled.

"Everybody just needed to relax, step back and take stock and we’re there now. We don’t know when we’re playing, but every last one of us wants Finn involved again.”

It may take a while. The only certainty in Brown’s world at the moment is the nappy that needs changing any time now.

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