Interview: Kyran Bracken

Sports Mole talks to former British and Irish Lions scrum-half Kyran Bracken about his experiences wearing the famous red jersey as well as the current squad's fortunes out in Australia.

The British and Irish Lions landed the first blow in their Test series against Australia last weekend with a 23-21 victory over the Wallabies in Brisbane.

Someone who knows what life is like on tour wearing one of rugby's most famous shirts is Kyran Bracken, the former England international scrum-half who was part of the successful 1997 trip to South Africa.

The 41-year-old, who won 51 caps for his country before retiring in 2006, flew out as injury cover as the Lions picked up a dramatic 2-1 series win over the Springboks.

Sports Mole catches up with the man himself to find out what his experiences were in '97 as well as getting his opinion on the current crop of players battling away in the Southern Hemisphere.

What are your fondest memories of being called up to the Lions squad in '97?
"I look on in envy at this squad because it's the best experience that any international player can have. While you're very proud to play for your country, the Lions are the best of the best.

"I was there in 1997 and I joined this band of brothers where there was this incredible atmosphere, this incredible team spirit, this incredible bonding of people who were previously smashing each other in the Five Nations.

"Rugby is the ultimate team sport and you really need each other. When you come together it really does make you feel part of something very special. Also, the reception you get from the fans who come out on tour is amazing.

How did getting the call from the Lions differ to how you felt when receiving your first England cap?
"It's different. I'd say the first cap for your country is very special. It was a dream come true. Mine was against the All Blacks at home and we won so, for me, I had a dream debut.

"You can't jump to the next step and compare it. If you asked me if I would rather play for my country or rather play for the Lions then I would say my country, but the Lions is the icing on the cake.

Kyran Bracken in action for England against Australia.© PA Photos

When you arrived in South Africa for the tour there were you quickly made to feel part of the squad?
"Yeah, very much so. It wasn't exactly the cusp of professionalism. Everyone was on the piss, basically. The game had just gone professional and it was incredible because every single night there was a bit of a party.

"My nickname was Gulliver's as in Gulliver's Travels as if I was one of the tourists because I was just partying, basically.

What do you remember of being coached by Sir Ian McGeechan on the '97 tour?
"He understood, with all his years of experience, of what the Lions are about. I think people have made mistakes since then like Sir Clive Woodward taking over a massive squad in 2005, but Sir Ian McGeechan got a small group of players together, created a great atmosphere and made it fun.

What did you make of the Lions' recent victory in the first Test against Australia?
"I thought it was good - very exciting, very dramatic - although it was also very frustrating because I thought the Lions were the much better side but the referee evened it out so much. The Lions were so dominant in the lineouts and scrums but everything good about the Australians was on the back of a referee decision. I was watching it with absolute frustration.

"I wouldn't want to be an Australian this week, though. While we've lost Paul O'Connell, I think we're going to go out there and annihilate them with their injuries. I see that happening in the next two Tests.

"The good thing is they've got the first win, players are coming back, they've got injuries, there's a South African referee who will referee the breakdown properly and I tell you what, they are going to get smashed. I think the Australians should look out.

Kyran Bracken skips beyond a tackle while playing for England against Wales.© PA Photos

Who has stood out for you on the tour?
"I think George North has been the find of the tour, I think he's the player of the tour to date. Also, I think a lot of the success is down to Leigh Halfpenny. When you have such a consistent kicker, someone who can kick from very tricky situations, it's a huge boost.

Which of the English players have caught your eye?
"In the first Test I think Tom Youngs did incredibly well. He's an incredible ball-carrier. For me, Alex Corbisiero has come in and played a really good match. Tom Croft has come in and not quite been able to play his natural free-flowing game.

Finally, who do you think will challenge for the Aviva Premiership next season?
"I think the usual suspects will be there. Leicester have a knack of winning, Harlequins will be disappointed with how last season ended up, so I think what will happen is Quins will be a force to be reckoned with."

Rugby enthusiast Kyran Bracken has teamed up with Burger King to announce the return to 100% British and Irish beef with the re-launch of the Angus Collection. What better way to support our British and Irish Lions. The Angus Collection is now available in Burger King restaurants across the UK.

Lions' Alex Corbisiero in action against NSW on June 11, 2013
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