Fresh claims have emerged regarding the incident which contributed to the omission of Mike Brown and Ben Te’o from Eddie Jones’s squad in the lead-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and in effect brought the international careers of both players to an abrupt close.
England’s long-time full-back Brown, who is now playing at Newcastle Falcons, has gone public for the first time on what he says sparked the well-publicised spat during England’s training camp in Italy before the tournament. Among his allegations is that a third player, Maro Itoje, unintentionally fuelled the situation during a boozy team social gathering.
According to Brown, Itoje was in high spirits and was going around “whacking people in a fun, jovial way”. Brown, however, was not amused – “He hit me very hard [on my chest], hard enough to leave a massive handprint” – and says Te’o spotted his frustration. “Ben kind of cottoned on to that and then for the rest of the time decided he would try and wind me up,” Brown told RugbyPass’s Jim Hamilton in a Rugby Roots interview looking back on his career.
“It was unfortunate really. We’d had a really intense two-week period in Treviso in our World Cup camp. The training was the toughest I’ve ever experienced in my life and we hadn’t done too much socially away from it. Some guys had a few too many.”
At one stage, Brown alleges, Te’o stumbled over a table and knocked over some drinks which prompted two younger players to intervene and ask him to chill out. “I don’t think he liked that because they were two young guys and it wound him up a bit,” Brown said.
“So then we left, early evening, late afternoon, to get on the coach. I can hear him in front of me with a group of lads. He’s going: ‘I’m going to knock him out on the bus, I’m going to do this to him, I’m going to do that to him’. I was like: ‘Te’o, I’m stood right behind you. What’s your problem?’
“He kind of walks back to me and we meet and he’s just swung for me. He’s done a lot of boxing, he’s a big lad and he clipped me well. We just kind of came together and everyone kind of dove in and broke it up. I didn’t get near him. That’s basically what happened.”
Jones ended up dropping both players from his squad, which went on to reach the final, despite Brown’s insistence he was mostly blameless. “Eddie didn’t take kindly to that. He didn’t speak to me from the moment it happened … I felt a bit let down because not many lads said: ‘Mike didn’t actually really do much. It was instigated by other people.’
“I didn’t feel like anyone really had my back. People were looking after themselves because it was close to a World Cup and I kind of understand that. [But] that wasn’t the reason why I didn’t go to the World Cup. I think it was just easier for Eddie to put it on that.”
The Rugby Football Union has declined to comment while Itoje’s club Saracens have yet to respond to Brown’s allegations.
Meanwhile, a review by New Zealand Rugby into the management of the national women’s team, the Black Ferns, has concluded there was no “clear or consistent high-performance vision, practices or mindset” but the head coach, Glenn Moore, is to stay in his post ahead of the World Cup later this year.
Munster are set to confirm the former England international Graham Rowntree as their new head coach.