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Interview: Former England scrum-half Kyran Bracken talks Rugby World Cup

Sports Mole caught up with former England scrum-half Kyran Bracken at the PokerStars and Prostate Cancer UK Lads Night In to talk all things Rugby World Cup.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup has already thrown up some storylines that will go down in the competition's history, most notably of all Japan stunning South Africa in their opening game of the tournament.

More landmark moments are sure to be made in the coming weeks, one of which could well come this evening when hosts England take on Wales at Twickenham in one of the most eagerly-anticipated World Cup group games of all time.

Former England scrum-half Kyran Bracken knows all about such high-pressure situations having been part of the winning squad from the 2003 tournament, getting the last of his 51 caps in the semi-final victory over France.

Sports Mole caught up with the 40-year-old at last night's PokerStars Lads Night In, which raises money and awareness for Prostate Cancer UK.

Kyran Bracken at an event in London on September 13, 2015© Getty Images

First of all, why are you here tonight at the PokerStars and Prostate Cancer UK Lads Night In?

"I just think it's a really good idea. Now that I'm a married man and don't get out that much it's quite nice to harp back to the old days where you can play a bit of poker with your mates. I used to have a man cave at the end of my garden where we'd play cards once a week.

"Prostate Cancer will affect a lot of people, no matter who you are. I've had someone in the family who's had it, so it's important to raise some money, raise awareness and have some fun as well."

We've had quite a few fixtures of the Rugby World Cup now. What have you made of it all?

"It's been amazing. First that South Africa-Japan result - it's made the tournament really exciting. You've got tier one sides and tier two sides and usually there's a massive difference, but that game proved that tier two teams can do really well and it's shocked a lot of people.

Jpaan players celebrate the try of Michael Leitch of Japan during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between South Africa and Japan at the Brighton Community Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Brighton, United Kingdom© Getty Images

"Then there's the Pool of Death (England, Australia, Wales, Fiji, Uruguay). People are saying it would be nice if England had an easier group, but I think it's a good thing for England and the competition to have three big nations who could win the whole thing in the same group.

"Someone big's gonna go home and today's game will play a huge part. Let's hope it's not England. I don't think it will be, but today's match is massive. I can't think of a more important game for England to win against the Welsh."

Which way do you see that England match going? Where will it be won and lost?

"Well, as always, it's won up front. Most matches are won with the forwards and there are some question marks over the England scrum, it hasn't been great so far and the lineouts have been a little sloppy, but I think we'll have too much for the Welsh.

"Wales do rely on scraps and their forward pack could cause an upset but I think we'll just be too strong for them and I think Stuart Lancaster has chosen quite well."

George Ford (L) looks on with Owen Farrell during the England captain's run at Twickenham Stadium on November 21, 2014© Getty Images

What do you make of Owen Farrell getting the nod over George Ford at fly-half?

"I think a lot of people would like to see Ford at number 10, but it's not the end of the world. Farrell is a better defender and he's a longer kicker, but in attack he hasn't got the weapons that Ford has.

"Having said that, I think the channel where Ford would have been is somewhere Wales would have targeted. They would have definitely run Jamie Roberts at him all day long. Against Farrell I think it's a slightly different kettle of fish."

And Sam Burgess? Coming in for his first World Cup start at centre...

"Well he's been thrown in at the deep end and by all accounts he's known for being an extremely good rugby league player. It's his chance to prove to a lot of people that he can cut the mustard in union.

Sam Burgess in action during an England training session on September 4, 2015© Getty Images

"He came on and did well in the last game, but that was just for 20 minutes in an easier game. It will be interesting to see how he fares in a tough game against difficult opposition. Him versus Roberts, who is a similar size and a real powerhouse, will be really intriguing."

You mentioned South Africa's defeat to Japan. Do you think the Springboks can recover from that?

"Never say never. England played South Africa in the first match of the 2007 tournament and lost 36-0. They got absolutely battered and there was talk of mutiny in the camp, but they just buckled down and turned it around. They got to the final and it was a much closer game.

"So you can't write off the South Africans, but they do seem to have a lot of players who are at the end of their careers and there's not many new faces coming through. They don't have the mobility that they used to have and they play Samoa on Saturday which will be horrible. There's going to be a lot of big hits."

But then Scotland comfortably beat Japan on Wednesday? It's a tough group to call isn't it?

"Yeah they surprised me against Japan. I thought Japan would have a good chance of getting another scalp but they ran out of steam after 60 minutes. Scotland looked good though and they could potentially win that group.

Stuart Hogg of Scotland during the Rugby World Cup game with Japan on September 23, 2015© Getty Images

"Everyone thought that they would come second to South Africa and possibly England's opponents in the quarters if we win our group, but it might be South Africa now.

"People have planned it in their minds - England win the group and play Northern Hemisphere teams in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, but I think there will be more upsets along the way."

Are New Zealand still the favourites for you after the first week?

"Yeah they are, but not by a lot. I'd love to see an England-New Zealand final because I think England could raise their game and beat them. The All Blacks don't seem as invincible as they have in the past. They had a scare and didn't win all that easily against Argentina.

Ritchie McCaw of New Zealand leads the Haka during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool C match between New Zealand and Argentina at Wembley Stadium on September 20, 2015© Getty Images

"Argentina will be a difficult team to face if they go through in second place from the pool. They've just thrashed Georgia and look really good."

Do you think this is the most competitive World Cup ever?

"It does seem to be. I'm not quite sure how Namibia kept New Zealand within 60 points. Most of the Namibian team aren't professionals so fair play to some of the smaller nations.

"We all want the sport to flourish in the countries who don't play it so much. The USA is another one - more Americans are playing in the Premiership now and the more that happens, the better chance they have of getting close to the tier one teams."

As a former England scrum-half, what do you make of Ben Youngs, who equals your cap tally against Wales?

"He's doing alright. He's under pressure with Richard Wigglesworth doing well when he comes on. I think Youngs is a good, attacking player but he hasn't quite had the platform yet for his darting runs, which is his main forte.

Ben Youngs celebrates scoring a try for England in the Six Nations on March 21, 2015© Getty Images

"Wigglesworth is a threat and we haven't even seen Danny Care yet. I'm confident that Youngs can pull it out of the bag against the Welsh."

As for Wales, they lost their scrum-half Rhys Webb to injury and have had several other players ruled out, including Leigh Halfpenny. How much will that affect them?

"I think Halfpenny's the big one. When you take away his goal-kicking from distance, it's a huge blow. They do have exciting players coming in though and sometimes injuries can galvanise a team.

"They'll feel like their backs are against the wall and big matches like against England give them a chance to show what they can do."

Finally, give us an overall prediction for the tournament...

"I think New Zealand will beat England in the final, 30-15 if I had to be exact."

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George Ford (L) looks on with Owen Farrell during the England captain's run at Twickenham Stadium on November 21, 2014
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