Charlie Bracken Exclusive: ‘We are just focusing on being the best we can be’

Charlie Bracken played the full 80 minutes in England's win over Scotland last Friday
©RFU Collection via JMP

“I slept well that night,” Charlie Bracken said of his 80-minute performance against Scotland last Friday at The Stoop.

Picking up a 41-36 victory over their opposition, Bracken and the rest of his England U20s teammates experienced a whole spectrum of emotions across the game. 

Racing into an early lead with a Josh Hathaway hat-trick, England had to rally as Scotland registered 26 unanswered points to take a lead which at one stage seemed improbable.

Recovering from their mid-game wobble, a converted Tobias Elliott try, and a Sam Harris penalty ultimately meant England started their campaign off with a bonus point win.

“It was obviously good to get the win,” Bracken said. “The boys definitely felt relieved after how close the game was because it was a bit back and forth.

“At one point of the game, Scotland were up, and we were chasing them a bit. I think everyone was happy to get the win, but definitely a lot of areas to improve on and improve that performance for the Italy game.

“We were talking after the game in our review about the momentum shift that happened where we went up quickly, scored three tries and felt like we were really on top and then Scotland started to get back into the game.

“The message was, I don’t think at any point we were heads down, feeling sorry for ourselves. It was always the message of getting back at them, getting some more points on the board and getting the momentum back which is what we aim to do against Italy.”

Following the final whistle, Bracken was the subject of much praise after giving away his shirt to a young fan in the stands. It was his father, former Rugby World Cup winner Kyran, who tweeted the image of his son beaming alongside the young fan at the Stoop.

“It was a great experience and I have had a lot of mementoes in the past,” Bracken said, “been given shirts after games and they do mean a lot, but I definitely think it means a lot more giving it away than what it would have meant for me.

“Loads of people came to watch, loads of people who didn’t have family or friends there but were just showing their support for England and for England U20s. I thought it was going to mean a lot more to them.

“I have got lots of stuff to remember from the game, but that was definitely a thing that will stick with me a lot longer and fonder than the shirt will.”

This Friday night will see England host Italy at Kingsholm, who narrowly lost 28-27 to France in Round 1.

In recent years, Italy have been something of a bogey team for England's age-grade side. This has been no more apparent than in Bracken’s own encounters, the teenager bettering Italy at U19s, but falling short in the Summer Series in a ranking match.

The Italians’ rise to prominence over recent years has contributed significantly to the progression of their senior national team. 

Recently, the likes of Tommaso Menoncello, Lorenzo Cannone, Paolo and Alessandro Garbisi have all turned out for the side and have begun to turn the fortunes of a rugby nation.

Supported by a healthy home crowd a week ago, Kingsholm has had significant demands for tickets for this weekend and it all adds up to what may be a memorable evening.

“Obviously, the Italians are very full of passion,” Bracken said, “very competitive and a great side. They are looking really strong coming back into this Six Nations.

“I watched the captain’s speech, where David [Odiase] spoke about coming for World Rugby. With us, our mindset is very focused on us and that was the same for the Scotland game.

“We are just focusing on being the best we can be, and we back ourselves. We have got lots of confidence in ourselves, in our ability and our team. 

“I am really looking forward to playing against Italy for a third time. Hopefully we can get the win this time.”

It was noted ahead of England’s clash with Scotland the contrast of professional minutes the two sides had. 

England by far and away had significant experience under their belts with their senior club sides, Bracken himself appearing for Saracens this season after the 19-year-old made his debut for the North Londoners against Wasps last March.

So far in the 2022/23 campaign, Bracken has made three senior appearances for the club and started in the side’s exhibition match against Tel Aviv Heat.

“I think playing those games has really kind of made me a better player,” Bracken said. “That is the highest standard of rugby I have played so far, and I have really enjoyed those experiences playing in the Prem Cup.

Bracken says that England's focus is on themselves heading into Friday's clash with Italy
©RFU Collection via JMP

“Those experiences do really help you get a taste for what it is like playing at the top level. It has been great, and it is really great of all the clubs to give players the experience which has prepared us well for this experience.”

In addition to his Saracens commitments, Bracken has also been picking up valuable minutes with Loughborough University. 

In his first year of study after completing his A-Levels at St Albans School, the 19-year-old has turned out in BUCS Super Rugby and National Two West so far.

Getting to grips with the physical demands of men’s rugby and the pace of the university game has certainly helped hurry along Bracken’s development.

Starting at scrum-half again for England this Friday night in an unchanged side, Bracken has very much got the best of both worlds, marrying his time at Saracens with his academics in the East Midlands.

“I wanted to keep going with my education because I had done well with my A-Levels and thought you can get injured at any point in rugby and you have to have something to fall back on,” he said.

“I thought getting more education would be the right thing to do. Talking about the standard of rugby that I would be playing if I was going full-time would be similar to what it is now I am at uni if not better playing in BUCS or Nat 2.

“That is a great experience in itself and the rugby at Loughborough is great and I am really enjoying it. It is nice to have a mix of training and playing at Sarries, and then also at Loughborough to study and train.”