Pain of defeat in Cardiff drives on England

Mike Brown, England.
Mike Brown, England.
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Mike Brown has been one of England’s brightest performers in recent seasons but the defeat in Wales two years ago remains a dark day for the energetic full-back.

For those that need reminding of a sub-plot that is already dominating the build-up to Friday’s eagerly-anticipated Six Nations opener, England were 80 minutes from a grand slam in 2013 when their dreams were crushed in a shattering 30-3 defeat in Cardiff.

Brown started on the wing that day and was powerless to prevent a 9-3 half-time deficit descending into a record defeat in the fixture.

Wales were crowned champions, while England faced calls to rebuild their team.

As one of the likely five survivors from that match, Brown is motivated by his desire for retribution as the theme of revenge took hold of Stuart Lancaster’s England squad this week.

“That was one of the lowest experiences of my rugby career and it’s in the back of the mind,” said Brown, who will be restored to his more accustomed position at full-back – where he has shone for England – when the team is announced this morning.

“With everything that was riding on the game, it was obviously massively disappointing to lose in the way we did.

“It was a closer game than most people will have you believe, we just didn’t take our chances on the day and ended up doing not too well.

“It was a game that could have swung in our direction because there were momentum shifts, but then we chased the game and it got away from us.”

Lancaster’s inexperienced team were still finding their feet in the Test arena as they unravelled at a hostile Millennium Stadium, over-awed by the occasion and the ferocity of the Welsh players and support.

Brown admires the noise and passion generated by the Welsh fans and hopes that on this occasion England will be less affected by the reception awaiting them in Cardiff in what will be a dress rehearsal for their World Cup group showdown on September 26 at Twickenham.

“I enjoy atmospheres like that,” insisted Brown.

“As a player you want to be involved in those types of experiences and go to places like Cardiff.

“In terms of away fixtures, the atmosphere there is probably the best you’ll experience as a rugby player. It was incredible two years ago.

“I can’t speak for anyone else in the team and how they reacted to the atmosphere that day, but I enjoyed the occasion. I just didn’t enjoy losing.

“Hopefully, we’ll be a lot better equipped to deal with a match in Cardiff. It’s been a long time since that fixture and we’ve moved on since then, individually and collectively.

“You learn from these experiences and we’ve grown as a team, but we’ll find out Friday.”

Up against England’s three-quarter line will be a quartet of Test British and Irish Lions in Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, George North and Alex Cuthbert.

Wales’ centres and wings are comfortably bigger than the visitors’ with Roberts in particularly good form, but Brown insists they have more weapons in their arsenal than power alone.

“Most of them are Lions players, so they’re world class. They’re big boys and they use that strength very well,” he said.

“But that’s not to say they don’t have the skill set to run decoy lines.

“If Jamie Roberts is running hard, there’s no reason why they can’t also exploit you elsewhere.

“We know strength is one of their assets, but they are also good enough players to test you in other areas. We need to be on our toes.”

It is not just in the England camp where that lopsided scoreline is having an impact this week. Wales are also acutely aware of how England are using that defeat as motivation for Friday’s game.

“The hurt of defeat motivates you,” said 64 times-capped Roberts, who will be among 11 Wales starting line-up survivors from 2013 returning to face England.

“That’s why England are a massively dangerous side. The players who played two years ago will be hurt by what happened.

“There is nothing more challenging than a wounded animal.

“When you go through those lows it’s about how you react, and we will see a very good England side on Friday night. We will have to be on top of our game.

“You can have amazing memories and low points as well. Three of the biggest games of my career did not end well.”

Ireland have been installed as favourites to win the Six Nations after their odds were shortened as a result of the injury crisis that has decimated England.

Yorkshire’s Bianca Blackburn – a 20-year-old scrum-half who plays for Worcester – has been named on the bench for the England women’s team when they open their own Six Nations campaign against Wales in Swansea on Sunday.