Expert Witness: Kyran Bracken understands Danny Care selection to support Marcus Smith as England hunt series win over Australia

James While

As things hot up this coming weekend, England have made a number of enforced and tactical changes for the third and deciding Test versus Australia.

At scrum-half, Danny Care has been recalled in place of Jack van Poortvliet, a selection that has surprised many given the performance of the young Leicester Tigers half-back in England’s second Test win in Brisbane.

Former England scrum-half Kyran Bracken joins James While to examine the reasoning behind this decision.


“Firstly, I want to say that Jack was excellent in the second Test, as was Danny Care in the first. I don’t see this as necessarily a decision based upon the best nine in isolation, I see this more as an overall choice to enable others, particularly Marcus Smith, within the team,” explained Bracken.

“I was mightily impressed with JVP. He’s agile, quick and his pass is absolutely first class.

“His kicking game was outstanding and I absolutely believe that he’s going to be around for a long time, but equally I understand Eddie Jones’ reasoning in this instance.

“Some have suggested, perhaps, that Care’s recall might be due to leadership, given the loss of Maro Itoje and Tom Curry in the back five of the pack. There may be an element of truth in that, but I feel the bigger picture is Jones wanting to get the best out of Marcus Smith at 10 and giving him the service that he is most used to.

“There’s a lot of rattle in the press right now about Marcus being the future of English rugby. I’m sorry, but that’s rubbish – the immediate future of England is Owen Farrell – a world class Test match animal that wins consistently on whatever stage he’s put on and in whatever position he’s asked to fill.

“England’s challenge is how to get the best out of Smith alongside Owen, and that’s got a number of subplots around it.

“Fly-half is the general of a side. When Marcus plays for Quins, he’s the main man – he kicks the goals, he kicks to the corner, he totally controls the plays in an expansive style of rugby. That empowers him totally and makes him feel in control of everything around him. With England, this isn’t the case; Farrell rightly holds a number of those roles, albeit playing at 12, and he will control a lot of the tactical plays.

“The recall of Danny is to give him comfort and to empower him to play his game in an environment he already knows. It’s about allowing him to be the absolute best player he can possibly be in this England side, something that hasn’t quite yet happened to the level it could do.”


“I know there will be calls from certain quarters to drop Owen, but bluntly, those are quite risible as suggestions. The cupboard is bare at 12 as we already know and Faz is far and away the best option we have. I thought he was absolutely exceptional last weekend – he controlled the go-forward, he owned the scoreboard and was absolutely the architect of that win. As I mentioned earlier, this a 100 cap international and a world class Test match performer that is coming back to something approaching his best after his lay-off,” Bracken commented.

“Sure, when Manu Tuilagi is available then the debate changes in its nuances, but you cannot build a team upon selectorial uncertainty and you can only make those selections once he’s available – and then it becomes a good problem, whereas discussing it in his absence is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. In short, you don’t pick today’s team on tomorrow’s availability.

“The style that England play and calling for this expansive game is nowhere near as important as winning. When you look back through results on ESPN or in the press in a year or so’s time, you see ‘win, drawn or lost’ – you don’t see points for artistic merit or the beauty of the play – you see hard nosed results and that’s what teams and coaches are ultimately judged upon. England have to play a game that suits the available players they have, and right now, Owen Farrell is a key part of that.”


“Looking ahead to the Test, Danny Care will still bring his customary brilliance to the scrum-half role. People often judge nines on their attacking skills, but a key component of the role is the disruptive skills and defensive ability of the player too. England have managed to get a nudge on at scrum time in the last couple of Tests and Care’s ability to pressure his opposite number and to disconnect the relationship between the number eight and half-back at the set-piece is an overlooked skill-set. He is absolutely exceptional at this and I feel that’s the other reason for his recall.

“Elsewhere, losing Maro Itoje would make a big difference to any side in the world, but Ollie Chessum is a gritty player in an exceptional Leicester Tigers pack and actually probably enhances England’s carrying ability, although at the cost of that ruck nuisance presence that characterises Maro.

“At seven, Sam Underhill’s concussion rules him out from last week, but in Lewis Ludlam there’s a great replacement that offers far more than Underhill in terms of power/disruption at the ruck and yards in carry, even if perhaps you lose a bit in tackle power. Bolt on Jack Willis coming on as a finisher and it’s possible that England are in a slightly better position at seven than they were last weekend.

“Again, it’s another match of fine margins but I just feel that England have nudged ahead in this Test series. The first match was lost in a poor 20 minutes after half-time but in the other seven 20 minute period of the two Tests, England have been the better side and I see this continuing again on Saturday in what is a pivotal Test for both Eddie Jones and England.”

READ MORE: Australia v England preview: Eddie Jones’ men to edge to series victory over the Wallabies


Australia v England preview

Planet Rugby previews the series deciding third Test between Australia and England at the Sydney Cricket Ground.