is back, better than ever
By Brent Edwards
Tony Brown is back, really back, and the glint in
his eye after Otago's decisive 32-16 win over Canterbury on
Saturday night said it all.
The first five-eighth was inspirational as he overshadowed
Andrew Mehrtens in Otago's first win over Canterbury since
1998. Brown (28) missed the national championship last season
and started only three games in the Super 12 this year as
he battled career-threatening hamstring and back injuries.
When he was subbed off in the final minutes on Saturday night,
the Carisbrook crowd rose to salute one of the gutsiest players
to pull on an Otago jersey. "I've had a rough time with
injuries, but the whole team's had a rough six or seven months,"
Brown said in reference to the Highlanders' troubled season.
"We're changing our whole approach to rugby, and it's
going to take a while for that to come, but the signs are
there. "We've got a lot to prove. The guys are enjoying
their rugby and that makes a huge difference. "I've still
got a few years to play for Otago so hopefully I can get back
to my best and contribute fully. My fitness is still down,
but it's just good to get out there and play 80min."
Brown said the team "pretty much owed" a top performance
to the Otago public. "The crowds haven't been as big
as they've been in the past, but the support is still there,
and that's why we showed our appreciation to them after the
game." Brown described the Otago forwards as "magnificent".
"I thought young Ben Nolan had a great game and really
shaped up against one of the world's better scrummagers -
he's definitely got a future."
And he also had a rap for his five-eighth partner, Seilala
Mapusua. "He's a top player. He's fully fit now and,
the more games he plays, the better he gets. He's stepping
up and hopefully he can go on to bigger things."
It was Brown's 65th game for Otago since he made his debut
against Canterbury in 1995 and he relished being on the winning
side against his long-time rival and mate, Andrew Mehrtens.
"Mehrts has had lot of wins over Otago and the Highlanders.
It's good to get one back on him. It will be good to catch
up with him over a couple of beers."
Brown yet again spent a few minutes off the field as the medical
staff tried to fix his bleeding nose. "It's one of those
things that, when you get a knock on it, you burst a blood
vessel. It's just one of those things I've got to deal with,
I suppose." For Brown, the inconvenience of a bleeding
nose is a trifling matter so long as he is back playing rugby
- and playing rugby of that quality.