HAMPSHIRE rugby star Mike Brown makes his World Cup debut this Friday – and he knows his owes a huge debt of gratitude to Winchester’s Peter Symonds College.

The 30-year-old full back – player of the tournament in the 2014 Six Nations – will line up for England in the World Cup opener against Fiji at Twickenham.

Southampton-born Brown has indeed come a long way since he rolled up at Peter Symonds - the former school of sailing legend Sir Ben Ainslie and comedian Jack Dee – as a 15-year-old from Salisbury's Wyvern College school.

He hadn’t played much rugby at Wyvern, and arrived in Winchester as primarily a fly half.

All that was about to change, though.

“My secondary school, Wyvern College, was were I first started playing rugby. It was a state school and didn't have much rugby, if any.

“It was mostly football. I played most of my rugby at my local club side, Salisbury.

“I played mostly at No10 before I went to Peter Symonds and the coach Mike Marchant, who is still in charge now, said he wanted me to try and play full-back, because he thought I would do well there,” Brown has recalled.

“Being a stubborn teenager I resisted, and everyone wants to be the playmaker – though I was more of a show-and-go fly-half.

“I'm thankful that he was persistent, though, as once I moved to No15 I never looked back.

“It was from there that I joined the Harlequins academy when I left Peter Symonds at 18.”

From those teenage years in Hampshire, Brown has blossomed in to a complete player and was the standout performer for England in the 2014 Six Nations.

Yet he knows he almost missed out on the World Cup after getting knocked out against Italy in February on Six Nations duty.

Brown, who has been capped 38 times for England, was stretchered off after an eight-minute stoppage following a collision that left him concussed.

Although he played against Scotland and France in the final two games of the championship, persistent headaches disrupted the rest of his domestic season with Harlequins and threatened to leave his World Cup dreams in tatters.

With Brown fearing for his career, paranoia kicked in as the symptoms of his injuries weren’t fully obvious to those around him.

“When I came in and saw the lads training hard and looking over at me, I was thinking ‘They think I’m faking it. They think I’m saving myself for the World Cup’. You start feeling paranoid,” Brown explained.

"You have days when you worry and days when you sort of snap out of it.

“It’s hard when it’s not an injury where you have a start and an end - it’s just open-ended - and you just have to wait.

Brown recovered in the nick of time for England’s World Cup training camp, but admitted he had hit some “low moments”.

“I'm proud of the club I play for and proud of representing my country and people around me kept reminding me of that when I had the low moments; I just kept thinking about the end goal," he said.

Brown harboured no worries about returning to playing.

“I love the physical side of the game, not just the pretty stuff, so I have no worries about getting into it again,” he recalled.

“That's why I enjoy playing rugby, that's why I took up rugby at a young age, because I love getting stuck in.

“It's what makes me the player I am.”

By the time England defeated Ireland 21-13 in a World Cup warm-up match recently, Brown was back to his rip-roaring self .

Even after that game, though, he was still cautious about his World Cup dream becoming a reality.

“Four years ago I didn’t think I would be first choice," he said after the Ireland game. “I believed I could be, but whether it would happen or not, I wasn’t sure.

“It’s been a long time, and a lot of hard work to get here. But I still haven’t played in a World Cup yet, so there’s still a bit to go.

"I shall keep working hard. I am sure these days will go very slowly. But it would be a dream come true if I get to represent England at a World Cup.”

His dream will come true this Friday.