Mike Brown says he feared his career was finished after being released by Newcastle at the end of last season, but the full-back is now preparing for Leicester’s Champions Cup last-16 match against Edinburgh at Welford Road on Friday night.
The 37-year-old signed for the Tigers on a short-term deal in January and, following five accomplished appearances and two tries, it was announced on Tuesday that his contract has been extended into next season.
“Of course there were low moments when you didn’t think it was going to come,” Brown said of a winter that featured “a lot of dark mornings in the local gym”, when the former England international was without a professional contract for the first time since 2005.
“But then you kind of snap out of it and you carry on. It’s hard when you don’t have a purpose … it takes mental toughness to go to places you don’t want to go. When it’s cold and dark in the morning, it keeps you disciplined.”
Brown said he contacted Richard Wigglesworth, who stepped in as interim head coach in December following Steve Borthwick’s appointment by England, when he learned the Premiership champions may be in need of extra resources in their back division.
“I’d heard on the grapevine that Leicester might need some cover,” Brown said. “I dropped Wiggy a message and said: ‘I’m available, ready to go, I’ve been staying fit. I would love to come and contribute and feel like I can do that.’”
Looking to the meeting on Friday with Edinburgh, who qualified in fifth place from Pool A in the Champions Cup, Brown said: “We’re pumped as a group to be in the knockout stages of what we think is the best club competition in the world … Leicester Tigers of old, the history they’ve got in the competition – we want to make our own history, and have a got a great opportunity to continue that journey.”
Brown, who said he has found it easy to slot into a Leicester setup with “a good environment and culture”, also expressed hope that the English game’s stakeholders can agree a unified approach to benefit the wider sport.
“Nothing can get done without the alignment of everyone at the top,” Brown said. “The RFU, Premiership Rugby, the RPA [Rugby Players Association], all those stakeholders leading our game need to be aligned. Not people just taking their little bit and settling for that. If we want to grow the game, if we want to make it better … all those people have got to be aligned.”
Leicester also announced on Tuesday that Ollie Hassell-Collins, the London Irish wing who has won two England caps, will join the club next season.