Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, reports on rugby digging deep for one of its heroes at the weekend and says no-one can accuse Mike Brown of giving up the ghost.
Twickenham does big club games pretty well, usually to bring the game to an audience who wouldn’t normally go to a domestic dust-up, to increase the profile of the league and to make going to the match a big day out.
Sometimes you have to put up with flares, screeching announcers and pop bands you have never heard of, if you are of a certain age, but they get turnstiles turning.
We have had Harlequins staging their ‘Big Game’ there, Bath now put on ‘The Clash’ and Wasps have played St George’s Day matches at HQ. There was a significant one there this weekend.
On Saturday despite filthy conditions, a train strike and the usual inefficiency of the rest of the transport system 40,413 punters turned up at the old ground to watch Northampton take on Leicester.
They were there to honour Rob Horne, the former Northampton player, and most of the crowd must have realised lucky they are when Horne strode onto the pitch to present the match ball. There has been plenty of coverage of these events but we make no apology for adding our tuppence ha’penny.
The move to take this derby to London was also a help for the RFU who had the chance to test out the rejuvenated East stand ahead of the autumn internationals.
It took a bit of doing for Northampton to move one of the biggest games of the year away from the town but it was worth it.
Horne is a Wallaby centre, with 34 caps, who was making a big name for himself in the Midlands, after moving from the Waratahs in 2017 but he won’t play again. He played fewer than 30 games but established himself as a crowd favourite before his career was cut short.
He is just 29 years old.
This is a bloke who made his Super Rugby debut aged just 18 and was part of the Australian squad at two World Cups. But it is all over now from a playing point of view and yet another rugby player has been forced to quit early.
RugbySpy was at Welford Road on 14 April earlier this year when Horne led Saints out to play Leicester in the Premiership. A minute after kick-off he was on the floor after attempting to tackle the Tigers No.8 Sione Kalamafoni. He was lying on the pitch for quite a while and at the time we all thought he had just been knocked out but he was straight off to the local hospital.
A week later he retired from rugby after it was revealed he had severed the nerves in his right shoulder, leaving his right arm useless and although it is in a sling at the moment the odds are it will have to be amputated. Imagine that…………
Twenty-nine years young and rugby is done and dusted for Horne. But how the town of Northampton and the game of rugby has rallied round to support him and his young family while Horne has had to explain to his kids why he can’t pick them up.
He did admit in the programme though that thanks to the support of family and rugby friends he was able to ‘tackle the challenges head on’. Quite a brave pun to make.
He still loves rugby though and it seems rugby still loves him.
Last week, as he did round after round after interviews, which must have been painful, he told BBC Five Live: “I thought I had dislocated my right shoulder. It wasn’t until we got to Leicester Infirmary, and I saw the body language and demeanour of the specialists and how they were approaching me, that was when there was a feeling something serious had happened.
“I don’t have any bitterness towards the game. It has played such a massive part of my life and has shaped who I am as a man. I am already in my back garden tackling my one-year-old.”
At Twickenham his old team mates were desperate to get one over Leicester but they almost tried too hard and went down 23-15 in the end.
The Northampton boss Chris Boyd told us afterwards: “Every game we’ve played we’ve expected to play well enough to win and the loss is painful, the fact it’s a local derby is painful and the fact we want to respect Rob Horne, who is very well regarded in the club, is very painful.”
But the result does not amount to a hill of beans in the great scheme of things. What was far more important was what was going on off the pitch.
Of the Saints squad Tom Wood and Alex Waller, who fancy themselves as chippies, made a coffee table that was sold in a silent auction for the best part of two grand.
As the eloquent Wood said: “We have retired Rob’s locker and shirt to remind us all how quickly what we hold dear can be taken from us.”
Dylan Hartley and James Haskell sold off the chance to have dinner with them, although whether you would get a word in edgeways is doubtful. Despite that someone has got £10,000 from down the back of the sofa for that night.
Coaching sessions, signed jerseys and even ‘A Night with the Islanders, when the successful bidder has booked him or herself in for dinner with the likes of Ahsee Tuala, Ken Pisi and Api Ratuniyarawa – who are all at Franklin’s Garden’s – were all up for grabs with the latter going for north of £1,500.
The club have donated £5 for every season ticket holder and £1.50 from Saturday’s programme cover price went to Horne plus a portion of the ticket price. There were collection buckets doing the rounds as well.
Northampton did not know how much had been raised in total on Saturday night and told us a ball park figure will emerge in the week. But it is a reminder that the next time one of your players has to retire because of an injury sustained trying to entertain you, you should probably throw a few quid in the kitty.
However much it is that Horne gets out of the week, it is unlikely to take away all of the pain at having his career cut short whatever he says.
Let’s hope it is enough to put him in a good space for whatever he gets up to next.
After the game at Twickenham some fans, and the more professional members of the press, trudged over to the Stoop to watch Harlequins latest attempt to ambush Saracens.
Quins failed despite giving it the old full metal jacket as the champions emerged as 25-20 winners thanks to a turbo-charged Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell.
At the final whistle, Harlequins made on-pitch presentations to Danny Care and Mike Brown – Care for his 250th appearance for the club and Brown for his mind-boggling 300th.
In the amateur days players turned out more often for their clubs. Phil Hall, the Bath backrower, racked up 580 games for his club, although he is reportedly claiming 585, between 1960 and 1976.
But that is not to belittle Brown’s achievement because it is a different game now. Throw in 72 England caps and it is pretty decent shift and, at 33, Brown shows little sign of slowing down.
Opposition fans might not like Brown, some England fans don’t, if you dip your toe into the dreaded social media you will see that, but you can’t deny he has always been up for it.
The full-back is as gutsy off the pitch as he is on it – he is not afraid to tell the truth to the press.
After the 2015 World Cup exit he gave a coruscating interview when he said he had lost trust in team mates who had spoken out of turn, and anonymously, and he was ready to sort them out.
On the recent tour of South Africa he was virtually accused of not trying by one crowd expert and fronted up to the media the week after.
The gist of what Brown said was that you can accuse me of being rubbish but don’t ever accuse me of not trying.
Brown was trying again on Saturday night, catching the high balls, exploding big bombs with the boot and driving through contact.
It didn’t work out on his big night but you can’t say he didn’t give it a crack.
He always does.