Mike Cooper caught up with former England and Saracens scrum-half Kyran Bracken, to look back at England’s Six Nations but first and foremost preview his old club’s trip to Belfast this weekend.
MC: Kyran, thanks a lot for your time. First up, let’s talk about your old club, Saracens. How on earth do they go about getting a win at fortress Ravenhill against Ulster this Saturday?
KB: I’ve actually got a good feeling about Sarries this weekend. Their form in the Premiership is great and they have strength in depth in key positions which has been brought on by their rotation system – at hooker, scrum half, fly half and full back in particular. Obviously Ulster have been looking better and better over the years, but I think that, out of all the potential away draws, this is the one that Saracens would have wanted – Ulster’s gameplan probably suits the way Saracens want to play.
I think it will be close, but Saracens go there with a focus on winning the game – and I reckon they will win.
MC: The rumours in the press today are that Billy Vunipola might be making a surprise early return for injury. Just how important would that be for Saracens?
KB: It would be a massive lift for Saracens – he’s such a great ball carrier and Ulster, or any team, would struggle to contain him. It’s an area where Sarries have lots of depth but if he was to be fit it would provide them with such a boost, even if he was only fit enough to take a bench spot.
But this Saracens team has the ability to squeeze teams in the set piece and has a very strong tactical kicking game outside of their third, so it should be a great battle between the Ruan Piennar and Owen Farrell and Richard Wigglesworth; I suspect that will be the decisive factor. If Vunipola is able to play, great, but I don’t think that it is necessarily the be all and end all.
MC: We’ve become accustomed to Edward Griffiths and Saracens injecting a lot of glamour and press coverage into the club game, with the latest event being the 82,000 packed into Wembley. It’s difficult to argue that it’s not great for building interest in the game but, as a former Sarries man, do you worry that some of that traditional Saracens culture will be compromised?
KB: I’ve caught up with some of the old boys like Thomas Castaignede recently and one thing we’ve come to realise is just how much the game has changed from when we used to play. But even back then, Saracens have always been a team that like to push the boundaries – in the past, some people may have viewed the signing of big names like Francois Pienaar and the introduction of dancing girls as being gimmicks, but people need to start realising the sport is now an entertainment business, not just a game of rugby.
I think Saracens have always led the field in this regard and when you see 82,000 filling Wembley Stadium it can only be great for the game, and the more big club matches we have like that, the better. The razzmatazz of Saracens is just a means to an end to get more people interested in the game, and I’m all for it.
MC: Let’s turn to one of your other old clubs, Bristol. There’s been a lot of cash coming in, with coach Andy Robinson being followed by the likes of Ryan Jones, Anthony Perenise and Dwayne Peel – all international class players. What do you make of all this investment?
KB: Bristol, by having Robinson at the helm, have made a clear statement that they want to get back to where they belong – the Premiership – and the only way you can do that is by having serious investment. You don’t really want to be scrapping it out for a playoff spot in the Championship; you want to be the team that dominates and wins the league outright. A lot of the signings have been in key positions, like Dwayne Peel and Nicky Robinson, and they are experienced characters who know how to win at the highest level.
You get a lot of balloon payments when you join the Premiership, and so that covers a lot of the investment, but the only way they will be able to challenge teams like Bath in the long term is to put the money down now. If they can sort out their ground, they’ll have themselves a very solid foothold in the Premiership, should they go up.
MC: Seems to me that you think that, if Bristol do go up, they’ll be in it for the long haul.
KB: I think they’ll be fine but, as a side point, I’m not sure relegation should even be in place in the Premiership. The fact that you have a relegation system and a salary cap is ironic because it means that, if a team suffers some key injuries, it basically comes down to chance.
MC: Turning to international matters, and your old number 9 shirt in particular, England have got some great strength in depth now haven’t they?
KB: If you look last year, it was Ben (Youngs)’s year, whilst this year Danny (Care) is on fire and has adapted his game to fit England’s gameplan – it just goes to show that they are pushing each other. It’s just great to see this England team having depth in key positions in the backs. It will be really interesting to see how they deal with a quality side away from home in New Zealand. They’ve certainly come a long way and there’s still a long way to go – but these are exciting times and there are still Lions players to return from injury.
MC: Finally, it’s emerged this week that Jonny Wilkinson will finally be hanging up his boots at the end of the season. What was it like to play/train alongside him and why do you think he became such an icon of the English game?
KB: Everyone would agree that he’s an extremely committed man and very professional in everything that he does. He was a doubter in himself but it was this that drove him on to become the best tackler, best kicker and best all round player he could be. Above all though, he was always such a humble guy and I think it was that shy personality that really struck a chord with everbody. I’m glad to hear that he’s enjoying the quiet life out in Toulon – I expect he’ll stay out there for a while but maybe we’ll see him back in the England set up at some point in the near future as a kicking coach.
This interview was taken from Kyran’s appearance on cityindex.co.uk celebrity trader campaign.
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images