Bracken stamps his class with first-rate performance

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The Independent Online

No matter that Kyran Bracken's 30th, 31st and 32nd caps were won as captain of England. Nor was there any relevance to his 33rd, won as a replacement in the defeat in Dublin last month.

No matter that Kyran Bracken's 30th, 31st and 32nd caps were won as captain of England. Nor was there any relevance to his 33rd, won as a replacement in the defeat in Dublin last month.

All that mattered was his 34th, representing, as it did, the start of the rest of his international career. No wonder Bracken regarded Saturday's confrontation with the world champions as a re-run of his international debut.

"I really felt, once I got selected for this game, that I was winning my first cap all over again," said England's scrum-half afterwards. He was not though. His England debut in 1993 was against New Zealand, accepted as the best at the time. And it was over almost as soon as it had begun when Bracken was stamped on by All Black flanker Jamie Joseph within 75 seconds of the kick-off. Bracken battled on, however – he did not want to miss a second of what turned out to be an historic victory.

This time, mercifully, there were no Jamie Josephs in the Wallabies line-up. The only cynicism came perhaps, as the manager Clive Woodward pointed out, by Australia running players in front of their ball carriers to obscure and obstruct, but, that apart, there were no obvious shenanigans.

"I did wonder if I was going to get through the game and whether I would be stamped on," said Bracken. ''Fortunately none of that happened. It was good, it was a very clean game."

He was still apprehensive though. ''It was at Twickenham, we felt we had a point to prove against the world champions, and back in 1993 it was a similar situation, so I just prepared for this game as if it were my debut, and I have to say that I was probably more nervous for this Test than I have been for any other match."

Coming from the man who had been appointed captain for England's tour to Canada and the United States last summer that sounded odd. But Bracken's has been an odd career, riddled with ins and outs, ups and downs, injuries and loss of form, he is probably entitled, in some degree, to view each international with an element of caution.

But he was unstinting in his praise of the forwards' performance. Significantly the players who appeared to make the most impact on Saturday were those who had toured North America under Bracken – Graham Rowntree, Ben Kay and Joe Worsley.

"It was brilliant to be out there," added the Saracens scrum-half. "The difference between Ireland and Australia was that the forwards gave us a huge platform. The players who came in such as Graham Rowntree, Joe Worsley and Ben Kay were great, we just went forward and that was the difference between the two performances."

"Clive said we had to be a lot more aggressive and hurt the opposition, which Ireland did to us. So it is very pleasing to have played like that."

But Bracken was not wholly satisfied with the way things went. "It is not pleasing not to have scored a try and perhaps have put the game out of sight," he said. This is contrary to Woodward's strongly held belief that tries do not matter, entertainment is not a consideration, only victory matters.

However Bracken was adamant: "A win at all costs is the aim, and with Jonny Wilkinson's goal-kicking we were given a springboard, but we need to score tries. I think we had quite a few chances that we squandered and there were a few overlaps. There were a number of times when we broke their line but did not chase – perhaps that was partly through good defence from Australia – but we will be looking at that to make sure that we do put them away."

And he did not spare himself either. "There were a few things about my game that I was disappointed with. But if selected for the next match I hope I will have corrected them, because scrum-half is one of the most competitive positions in England. There seem to be new names coming through in every club, so it is important that Matt Dawson, Austin Healey and myself keep them at bay. I certainly feel the pressure from those sort of players. You just have to stay on top of your game.''