LOOSE head prop Andy Brown is closing in on a second taste of representative rugby as one of four Coventry players named in a provisional 40-strong England Counties squad.
Brown, who made his debut for England’s third tier side last year, tight head prop Phil Boulton, full-back James Stokes and scrum-half Pete White are all included in the initial selection for games against Scotland Club XV, at Birmingham Moseley on Friday, February 24, and Ireland Club International at Cork Constitution on St Patrick’s Day, March 17.
“We had an email to say that we are in the final 40 and that the team will be announced on the 1st of February,” said Brown, who is in his fourth full season at Butts Park. “I think they’re now sifting through the players they have available in each position and hopefully we will make the final cut.
“It’s a good honour and I really enjoyed the opportunity last year. I’m lucky that my work lets me go away and represent my country, and it’s good that the club and our director of rugby are backing the England Counties.”
Brown played tree games for Cov in the 2012-13 season when on loan from Doncaster Knights and, joining on a permanent basis the following season, is currently on 87 appearances and looking ahead to becoming the next member of the 100 Club.
“That will be something to work on for next season,” he said. “I turned 27 last birthday and, fingers crossed, I’m hoping to stay on at Coventry for the next couple of seasons.
“We had a bit of an up and down start to this season, we were a new team coming together and it took time to gel, but I think the introduction of a few new ideas, certainly from Nick Walshe in our attacking game, has improved things and our defence is starting to come together. We are all buying into a new system.
“It will take time and last weekend was quite disappointing. Going in at half-time we were feeling okay, but having two sin bins against us in the next ten minutes against the team top of the league threw the game away really.
“There’s always quite high expectations for us and I think we have disappointed over the last three seasons, but I think with the progress we’ve made, certainly over the last ten games, and a little bit of strengthening in some areas over the summer we can look forward to next season, and hopefully I’ll be part of it.
“I thought we really showed what we can do as a team against Moseley before Christmas,there was a spark there, and it’s just about putting it together over a season.
“It takes nothing to get up for a big game, at the moment it’s about staying concentrated to beat the teams in the lower part of the league.
“We lost quite heavily down at Esher, and we’ll be looking to put that right this weekend and do to them what they did to us.”
Brown, who became a father for the first time in September, has certainly enjoyed being part of a largely dominant scrum this season.
“It’s one area where I do think Coventry have definitely improved,” he said. “I think Boris Stankovich is an outstanding coach and he’s really got the scrum firing. We’ve all bought into what Boris has said, we go through his processes, and it seems to be working very well for us.
“We have a strong group in the front row – Phil Boulton’s an experienced guy with 200 games in the Championship, Jimmy Litchfield has really put his head down since the start of the season and worked hard on his game, and then you’ve got young lads pushing you as well like Jake Byrne who wants to learn and is a good kid.
“Scott Tolmie has shown he’s got a turn of foot, he carries his weight well and is quite a powerful scrummager, and then we’ve got Matt Price coming off the bench and I think gasping for a bit more game time.
“The rotation in the front row does help to keep you fresh, but no-one likes sitting on the bench or to miss a game if they’re fit. You want to play the 80 minutes if you can, but the way the game is now the body isn’t built for it.
“I’ve sat on the bench for the last couple of games, so I’m hoping to get back into the starting line-up for this weekend.
“It’s quite a difficult situation in National One with only having five replacements – look at last weekend when we had three injuries early on, one in the second row and one in the back row but with only one replacement to cover those positions.
“With props, you have got to have two on the field at any one time that can cover both sides, you can’t just have two out-and-out loose heads or two out-and-out tight heads. It’s quite difficult for me, only being a loose head, and I can understand some of the decisions made by the coaching staff at times.”
Added Brown: “Rowland (Winter) has been good with me over the new training regime and it’s all working quite well.
“I’m flexible with work and can finish a little bit earlier to get to the Tuesday and Thursday sessions, and I don’t have to attend on Monday. It’s still all about keeping your fitness and strength, you have got to look after your body, and fair play to the coaches, they let me get on with my own work.
“It would definitely start to show in games if I wasn’t doing my stuff.”
And he can point to his try against Fylde in October – a dummy and sidestep past the last defender – which remains a contender for score of the season.
“I don’t know where that came from – it was one out of the pocket and I don’t think I’ll do that too often!”