Holm Truths: Alex Brown - King of monster hits
One of Kingsholm's biggest hitters has been laid low himself, forced to retire before time.
Nick Wood pays tribute to stalwart second row Alex Brown, feeling the shudder of one huge tackle in particular all over again.
SCOTT Staniforth cut an incisive line – only to disappear.
Kingsholm cricked its collective neck, craning to catch sight of the expected clean break.
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At first the crowd – and many of the players too – could not locate the Australian winger.
But then they scanned underneath Alex Brown and winced.
Brown's monster hit was so well-timed many of his team-mates blinked and missed it.
London Irish wideman Staniforth probably still feels it even now, eight years after that 23-16 Gloucester victory.
Nick Wood thinks that is the single biggest tackle he has ever seen.
It is how the loosehead prop will always best remember his good friend and peer now that Brown has been forced into premature retirement.
Some players are always in the right place at the right time to make an impact ball in hand – shrewd second row Brown's canny defensive placement proved somewhat more destructive.
"Staniforth took a line off the scrum-half and that's still the biggest hit I've seen," reminisced 29-year-old front-rower Wood.
"Browny cut him in half and everyone was still looking the other way because we couldn't believe Staniforth hadn't cut the line.
"You wonder sometimes how someone of his build could be so physical, but he was fantastic at that and so committed to it."
That big-hit commitment caused the shoulder damage that has forced Brown to retire, aged just 33.
The Bristol-born lock lined up and sat down behemoth Northampton Saints prop Soane Tonga'uiha on the opening day of the season.
Expecting the tingling to recede, Brown battled manfully to continue. But even moving well beyond that day, the problem would not resolve.
Severe nerve damage led to complicated surgery, and now Brown will never regain the kind of movement or control of his arm to return.
A career cut short by one scything hit too many – but Wood believes even with hindsight Brown would not change a thing.
Wood continued: "It's a shock really. He put in a big hit on Tonga'uhia in the first minute of the first game of the season.
"He probably just thought it was a bad stinger, then started to get worried about it when he didn't recover feeling in his arm.
"It's crazy, and also a reminder to all of us that our careers are just one hit, one tackle, one scrum away from being over.
"It's sobering, to be honest. But you have to see beyond that and realise that's the risk we take on as professional rugby players, and that physical side of things is something Browny certainly embraced wholeheartedly.
"It's never nice to see a player forced to retire. We're gutted for Browny. He's a great friend and a great servant of the club."
Brown set the record for the most consecutive Premiership matches, impressing first at Bristol and then carving a decade-long niche at Gloucester.
Wood and Brown are both in the grip of benefit years, and the duo will continue their calendar of events for the rest of the season.
Brown will continue to help mastermind Gloucester's lineout work this term, and Wood hopes there is a role for the savvy operator in the long-term at Kingsholm.
Wood continued: "Alex commanded instant respect at Kingsholm for his quality as a player, but also for the way he put his body on the line.
"Ultimately it's cost him his career, but much as he may have regrets about that I'm sure he wouldn't change the style he played in, 100 per cent committed every time.
"Everyone knows him as a lineout specialist, but his defensive work is enormous. I've seen him put in some of the biggest hits I've ever seen on a rugby field.
"He was also very unsung in the scrum. Out of 200-odd games I've played I reckon he's played 150 of them behind me, and he made me look good so I've got to thank him for that.
"I always looked forward to playing with Browny and I'm going to miss him out there on the field.
"I hope now he can make a good transition to life after rugby, and maybe his benefit year events will help with that – it would certainly be great to see people put their weight behind that to help him.
"He's been such a great servant on and off the field for Gloucester, and a fine ambassador for the sport as a whole.
"I find lineout calls fairly straightforward now, but that's only because of the work Browny helped me through when I was younger, learning and understanding.
"If he can impart that experience and knowledge onto the younger members of the squad then there'll always be a role for him here. And personally I hope he stays on."