Browne eyeing up Muldowney role in Connacht engine room
Back to full fitness, Connacht lock Andrew Browne is hoping that he can reclaim the key playmaking role for his side now that Aly Muldowney has moved to France.
Browne and Muldowney both featured heavily in Connacht's game-plan last season, but a hand injury sustained on European duty last November meant Muldowney nailed down the first-choice position. Much has been made of the void left by the talented second-row since his move to Bernard Jackman's Grenoble, but Browne, 29, is confident that he can become Connacht's go-to man for their central pod.
"Yeah, Aly did extremely well last season, so we were kind of in the same role and towards the end of the season I was on the bench and Aly was starting," said Browne. "But at the start of last season we were kind of neck and neck in that role. Then I suffered a hand injury and Aly came in and he did brilliantly. I was always playing catch-up from there.
"I see it as this year, the competition is massive again, it's not just with Aly leaving. You have Quinn (Roux) and Ultan (Dillane) and all the other lads there.
"It's about staying on top of my game and doing my best, pretty much. Yeah, I'll try and get that run of games and play well."
Last week's abandoned game in Parma may well have been a point-less wash-out, but for Browne it was a crucial 40 minutes in his rehabilitation from a hamstring injury sustained in pre-season. The record books will say he is yet to play this season, but that half against Zebre was huge for him, he says.
"The lads go into pre-season and that first game is always a nightmare, it's so difficult. And that Zebre game was pretty much that for me, except it was a competitive game, it was in-season. I really had to get up to speed quite quickly.
"During my time off I did a lot of work, a lot of running. It's just you can never prepare for that match fitness, but that 40 minutes was brilliant for me.
"It was frustrating the pre-season. I was going well for the first two weeks and then I had that tear in my hammy, which kept me out of around eight or nine weeks. But now it's about getting a run of games together, getting my match fitness up, getting my sharpness up.
"You could see that 40 minutes was very beneficial just to great a bit of match fitness in. But trying to keep hold of that jersey, there is loads of competition there."
So tomorrow in Scarlets will be officially Browne's first action of the season, and it will bring back a few tough memories for him. Like a lot of teams, Scarlets will be forewarned about Connacht's game-plan, so Browne thinks they need to bring a bit of variety to their play.
"It's getting there slowly. We're not quite at the level of last year yet. But you know teams are starting to pick up on our shape so we have to identify new ways of breaking down opposition defences.
"I think that 40 minutes against Zebre was actually very beneficial, both personally and as a team to see what we need to work on. This is about stepping up. It's about meeting that physical battle. We've never won there so that's a challenge in itself. Even personally I don't have great memories of there: that's where I got injured last year. I fractured a bone in my shoulder. It's about all those mini challenges for individuals, as a collective and as a team."