07 Mar 14
Mike Brown speaks to Simon Ward of the RFU.com podcast ahead of this weekend's clash against Wales and discusses his personal message from Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel.
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Quins v L Irish
Harlequins v London Irish
London Irish (H)
29/03/2014, KO 15:00
Sat 29th Mar 14
AVIVA Premiership Rugby
L Irish 18-13 Quins
L W W L W
L Irish Form
W W W L L
It doesn't stop there either, Mayhew has two brothers Richard and Michael who also play professional rugby in the Aviva Premiership. Richard, 25 is a back-row for Newcastle Falcons and made 23 appearances last season. Mike, who is the eldest of the three brothers at 26 earns his trade as a hooker at London Irish.
Mayhew has always been involved in rugby from a young age. Playing in New Zealand with his brothers was where it all started, but the prop admitted he didn't expect to get this far: "I never thought I would play at a high professional level but I've just progressed over the years to get to where I am now."
Nic saw the transition from life in New Zealand to life in London as a difficult one, but an opportunity he couldn't afford to miss. With both of his brothers already in the United Kingdom playing at a professional level, their persuasion was the key: "I don't think I could have done it without them. If it wasn't for them I probably wouldn't have come over. They talked it up and told me to do it." Leaving New Zealand was something that the Harlequins man needed to do to advance his career, and continue his aspirations: "It was the first time I had left home. Quins gave me a great offer to move on to."
Despite his family being key in the move to Harlequins, without his former coach the move may not have happened. Whilst playing for local club North Harbour, ex-All Black prop Craig Dowd who has 60 caps recommended him to the Londoners and Mayhew recognises how important he is: "He was my first professional coach so I stuck to his opinions. He told me how to up my game and he is clearly someone you would listen to so I decided to give the move a crack."
The Kiwi, who also has English eligibility has always been in the forwards. In this case there is no Tom Youngs style transition from centre to the front row, and Mayhew sees prop as his ideal position. "I used to play at hooker for school until the final years when I moved to loosehead. I used to enjoy it more when I didn't have to throw the ball in so that's where my position came from."
During his first couple of years in England Mayhew was dual-registered with local Championship side Esher which was important in the development of his game and also getting used to the English style of play after an early injury set back. The Surrey based side were relegated from the Championship in the 2011-12 season but currently sit fourth in the National League One division, and have their eyes set on returning to England's second tier. Missing out on the LV= Cup and Aviva 'A' League with Harlequins meant that Conor O'Shea, Harlequins Director of Rugby, was keen to get him as much playing time as possible: "I enjoyed my time at Esher getting game time and helping get my fitness back up. They are good lads down there."
Dual registration is something that Harlequins often pursue to improve their academy players, and last year Esher also had Seb Stegmann and Charlie Walker who are now very much first-team players, although Stegmann moved on to London Welsh, looking for an immediate promotion back to the Aviva Premiership.
Mayhew has been terribly unlucky, suffering three serious injuries that have halted his career so far, and with this being his first injury free season since his arrival in England he knows this is his big chance. Breaking his ankle last pre-season took him months to recover from, whilst he later suffered from his shoulder and a Posterior Cruciate Ligament injury to his knee has been hugely frustrating: "This is my first season without injury and a decent run of games. I feel like I'm getting close now, my ankle gives me no issues anymore so I'm feeling good."
Recovering from injuries is something that many of the Harlequins players have become accustomed to due to the demands of modern-day rugby, and the Kiwi knows how important this is for the character of the side: "There are a few of the boys that have come back from big injuries and that really tells you the character of the boys here and shows the club must be doing something right."
With internationals dotted throughout the Harlequins team, they have no doubt had a positive effect on Mayhew's development. With the likes of England captain Chris Robshaw, former skipper Nick Easter, ex All-Black Nick Evans and experienced scrum-half Danny Care, advice has been easy to come by for the 25-year-old: "These guys are influential players, you look up to them. I take a lot from what they say and when they talk I listen. They have told me to bide my time and my opportunity will come."
Harlequins have enjoyed silverware success in each of the last three seasons, which has motivated Mayhew to continue this impressive run. They won the Amlin Challenge Cup in 2010-11 with a nail-biting last minute win over Stade Francais thanks to a Nick Evans touchline conversion in Cardiff. That was followed by the Aviva Premiership in 2011-12 with a 30-23 victory against Leicester Tigers, which saw them crowned Champions of England for the first time in their history. Last year they also won the Anglo-Welsh Cup after a crushing 32-14 defeat of Sale Sharks and won the Aviva 'A' League showing their credentials for the future, of which Mayhew was a crucial part. In what is a golden era for the club, the Kiwi knows his chance to feature more regularly in the first team will come: "I've gained valuable experience in the 'A' League and now I really feel like I'm knocking on the door."
Harlequins coach Conor O'Shea, who has recently signed a new three-year contract extension, clearly has confidence in Mayhew's ability, and was excited about his arrival back in 2011: "Nic comes from a family steeped in rugby. He is young, explosive and has a huge desire to make an impact in the game. From watching him and talking at length to Craig Dowd who has coached him we have no doubt he will flourish in this environment."
The Harlequins academy has quite a reputation for producing stars, and there is no stopping them this season either with yet more youngsters coming through. They have manufactured England captain Chris Robshaw, England's recent QBE International Man of the Series Mike Brown, prop Joe Marler and LV= Cup winning captain Luke Wallace to name just a few. It is clearly something that is paying dividends for the Londoners, and Mayhew trusts that he is at the right place to move his career forward: "I've had opportunities to develop. Quins have sorted me out well."
With their success in recent years there is clearly a great bond between the players in the dressing room. After so many of the team have come through the academy together, Mayhew revealed the main jokers in the camp, and praised the spirit in the team: "Joe Trayfoot won't stop running his mouth, it drives people into the ground! Joe Gray and Ben Botica think they're funny but they are not which is quite awkward." He also said that occasionally the squad like to prank their team mates: "There are the old stalwarts like George Robson who love a prank every now and again."
The Stoop based club have a sizeable squad and look to use it across all of the Premiership, Heineken Cup, LV= Cup and 'A' League competitions with plenty of variations. However with the long injury list, or what some fans would call a crisis, there are plenty of jerseys up for grabs. Due to their success, four Englishman were called up for international duty for the Autumn and it would be a safe bet that the same group including Chris Robshaw, Danny Care, Mike Brown and Joe Marler will be included in the Six Nations squad, taking them away from Harlequins for up to eight weeks. The Premiership continues during international periods unlike in football, so again opportunities will arise for some of the fringe players.
Despite not getting on the pitch in Harlequins' 27-19 victory over Gloucester last weekend, sitting just a couple of rows behind the dugout it could clearly be seen how eager Mayhew is to take his opportunity at the Stoop. A slight second-half wobble put a dampener on the celebration of the 50th anniversary of their iconic stadium, but O'Shea's men are surging up the table in a way that the rest of the Premiership will fear, with four wins in their last six games including a noteworthy victory over Leicester at Welford Road.
Mayhew admitted that playing regularly has driven him towards facing Newcastle and London Irish, the teams his brothers play for, and can't wait until the day he finally plays against them. Harlequins faced the Falcons earlier this month in what turned out to be a very one-sided 35-9 victory for the Londoners, and whilst Richard featured for Newcastle, Nic was denied of his chance when it looked like that day could be a lot sooner than expected: "We all want to play each other so much and I would love nothing more than to line up against them."
All three brothers are still finding their feet in the Aviva Premiership, although Richard impressed during Newcastle's promotion season last year. The Falcons returned to the top league in England at the first time of asking under coach Dean Richards, and the 25-year-old made 23 appearances and also went over the whitewash five times from the back-row. The other sibling, Mike, joined London Irish last season and made four appearances in total, after playing 20 times for the Falcons with his brother. They are all English qualified, so a sustained period in their respective first teams could reap even more of a reward, an international call-up.
Nic's father John had an incredible career with the All Blacks and is still involved in the medical side of the sport at North Harbour Rugby where his son's career began, and the loosehead has drawn inspiration from him throughout his development. The former team doctor was a vital part of the number one ranked team for 16 years, and was involved in some of the most infamous moments the sport has ever seen. Winger Jonah Lomu suffered a horrific injury in 1999 which could have ended his life, and paid tribute to Mayhew Senior. Lomu was battling kidney failure and had a septic bloodstream, losing 16 kilograms in two weeks. Mayhew admitted that at one point he was struggling for his life: "For a while there, Jonah was an extremely sick man."
Turning towards his sons professional career back in 2004 when he left the All Blacks, the close family have always been supportive of each other: "I've been exceedingly fortunate to have had tremendous support."
During his down-time, Mayhew likes to spend his time relaxing as much as possible, but said that he has had to adapt to the English lifestyle after leaving one of his favourite hobbies in Auckland: "Training is quite intense so I like to just chill out. I'll occasionally pop up to London to catch a show but I'm a really keen fisherman back home. In New Zealand I'd be out on the boat but it's a bit different over here!"
Judging by his very active twitter page he has bonded well with his fellow Harlequins team-mates. Ben Botica who is also from New Zealand made the same move, and has impressed on the pitch so the pair can relate to each other. They attended the England v New Zealand match at Twickenham in mid-November, no doubt supporting their native country.
Following New Zealand's narrow win over England in the Autumn, the gap in quality between the teams seems to be closing. An impressive English performance pushed the All Blacks to the very limit, coming back from 17-3 down to lead 22-20 before a late onslaught, and Mayhew suggested the teams are drawing closer ahead of the 2015 World Cup: "The New Zealand set piece is stronger with their scrums and line-outs but apart from that there's not much."
Mayhew also compared Harlequins to New Zealand with their style of play: "Obviously we like to play an attractive brand of rugby with a high tempo, we love to throw the ball around."
With the seasons between the two countries at different times of the year, this can be a problem when the Autumn Internationals come around. England hadn't played since the tour to Argentina before the games against Australia and the Pumas for the third time this year, whilst the All Blacks came off the back of a successful Rugby Championship campaign including wins over the Wallabies and South Africa. The Super Rugby season for clubs in New Zealand tends to be when it is certainly easier to throw the ball around in the warmer and dryer weather than it is back here during the winter months. Mayhew sees this as a reason why the All Blacks play a more expansive brand of rugby, along with the dry pitches of Auckland compared to the stormy Friday night matches up in Newcastle: "The conditions obviously play a part, but the gap is not what it used to be."
This season has the potential to be make or break for Nic Mayhew. Encouraging performances so far in this injury-free campaign have given him the platform to move on and cement his place in the side. With an ex-All Black father and two up and coming Aviva Premiership stars as brothers, he certainly has the credentials to become a top player.