Browne itching to face Munster as Brive bid to rise above Top 14 woes
Having spent much of 2011 watching Brive's relegation battle from the sidelines, Damien Browne is desperate to be included in their 23-man squad for Saturday's visit of Munster to the Stade Amedée-Domenech.
It's been a dismal season on the domestic front for Brive, but vital wins over fellow strugglers Bourgoin and La Rochelle in the last fortnight mean the outlook is slightly more positive.
The former European champions appear to have secured their Top 14 status for next season, after last Saturday's victory over La Rochelle moved them nine points clear of the relegation zone with three games remaining.
Browne has been little more than a spectator for Brive since the turn of the year, however. His last league start came in their January 2 defeat away to Perpignan.
The former Connacht lock has since had to settle for three substitute appearances, the last of which saw him introduced for the second half of the loss in Toulouse on March 12.
"I can't say I've enjoyed the last three months. It's been pretty difficult," admits Browne, who joined Brive from Northampton Saints in 2008.
"Going into December, in my opinion, I'd had a good first few months of the season. I was very happy with my form and it was probably the most consistent spell I've had since I came to France.
"But then our forwards coach was sacked, a new guy took over and I've basically been on the bench since then.
"That's his preference and he's entitled to his opinion. He obviously has his own ideas about how he wants to set up the pack of forwards. But I'd love to see more game time because I feel I could add something to the team."
While Browne has been a frustrated spectator for Brive this year, the Galway man is eager to play some part against Munster this weekend.
Saturday's Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final will be the first ever meeting of the two clubs, with a home semi-final against Wasps or Harlequins at stake.
"We played Petrarca and El Salvador in our first two games of the Amlin back in October and it was almost shocking to see how casual the attitude to it was," reveals Browne, whose contract with Brive is up for renewal at the end of the season.
"But we've come a long way in the competition at this stage so we don't want it to end now. We've worked very hard to get to the quarter-finals so the squad are really up for the Munster game."
Brive completed a clean sweep of six victories, which included home and away wins over Sale Sharks, in the group stages to secure their place in the last eight of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
However, that's been overshadowed by their recent domestic difficulties. "We've been suffering from a huge lack of confidence lately," says Browne (30).
"There seems to be a fear in the team to actually go out and play, especially at home, which is unusual for a French side. Maybe the pressure on the team is mounting so much that we go into our shells when we play at home.
"When there's expectation on us, it's almost as if the pressure becomes too much and we can't handle it."
The former Ireland U-21 international reckons Munster can expect a hostile reception on Saturday, but he doesn't believe Tony McGahan's side will be intimidated.
"Munster are well used to playing in France so it'll be nothing new to them. But the crowd will be pretty hostile. They like to get on the ref's back and make it as hard as they can for visiting teams," he said.
"But I don't think it will be an issue for Munster. They've won in places like Perpignan in the past so they've experienced it all before.
"It's a huge game for Brive and a massive occasion for the town. The day after we found out we'd be playing Munster there was a real buzz around the squad.
"We've had to park it over the last couple of months but there's a real sense of anticipation now that the game is approaching."
Although it also hasn't been an enjoyable season for Munster by their high standards, based on both sides' domestic fortunes, Browne believes the Reds will travel to Brive confident of victory.
"They probably have every reason to be confident. They're well ahead at the top of the Magners League and they're still one of the heavyweights of European rugby," he said.
"On the other hand, we're in the middle of a relegation battle in the Top 14, so there's a bit of a difference in where the two teams stand.
"It'll be a big test for us. There's no doubt we'll be massive underdogs, but perhaps that will work in our favour."