Ben Te’o has broken his silence over the fight with Mike Brown that ended his World Cup dream, saying he was surprised by the reaction to the incident after feeling it wasn't “that big of a deal”.
The former Worcester Warriors centre has spoken for the first time about the incident that occurred in England's training camp in northern Italy last summer ahead of the final squad selection, which led to Eddie Jones omitting both players.
“We actually got along quite fine but sometimes things happen when guys have a few too many drinks,” Te’o said. “And when I woke up in the morning I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. But obviously for some people, maybe a leadership group or something along those lines, maybe it was a big deal to them.
“Eddie rang me up and said he wasn’t going to take me to the World Cup. He was pretty upset with me.”
The 32-year-old, who has returned to rugby league having crossed codes in 2014, starting his rugby union career with Irish province Leinster, made the revelations to former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll in an episode of the BT Sport programme Lions Call.
At the time of the incident both players kept their counsel, with Harlequins full-back Brown only saying: “When the details come out, people will know how everyone in that situation handled themselves.”
When asked if he and Brown had since made peace, Te’o said: “We haven’t yet, we haven’t crossed paths.”
New Zealand born Te’o, who earned 16 England and two British & Irish Lions Test caps after making his England debut in the 2016 summer tour to Australia, moved to Worcester as he was automatically qualified to play for Eddie Jones's side via his mother. There had been speculation he could qualify to play for Ireland through residency rules, creating a somewhat controversial beginning to his England career. Te’o had also raised eyebrows having only played 30 times for Worcester over three seasons at the club from 2016-18 but had managed to become a Lions Test player.
Te'o was so sure that he was going to get a nod for the World Cup squad that he had made logistical arrangements for his family to move back to Australia while he was playing in the tournament in Japan. He said: “I was like, ‘Oh well, that was an interesting end to the last three-and-a-half years that I’ve put in’.”
He was also quick to praise fellow code hopper Sam Burgess with whom he played for a season at the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Unlike Te’o, Burgess made it to the 2015 World Cup, but only to be at the centre of the recriminations as England were knocked out in the pool stages. He returned to South Sydney and has since retired.
“Unfortunately it didn’t pan out for Sam,” said Te’o. “I was quite sad to see him leave because I know that he had a lot more in him. “I knew Sam had a lot more growth and he could have been one of the great players that England had.”
Since the abrupt end to his England career, Te’o had a brief spell in the Top 14 with Toulon, before signing with Japanese Super Rugby franchise Sunwolves. Te’o is now playing rugby league at the Brisbane Broncos, for whom he previously played from 2009 to 2012.
Brown has not played for England since, either, but was out of action with a knee injury for most of the 2019-20 season.