Twelve months ago it was the hope that did for Danny Care. He had been in England exile for the best part of three years but his form had not been ignored by the British & Irish Lions head coach, Warren Gatland, to the extent that he received a letter confirming he was on their long list. When the squad was finally announced Care’s name was missing, however, and any chance of an international reprieve appeared to go with it.
It explains why after making his first England appearance since November 2018 against the Barbarians on Sunday, roughly 16 hours before Eddie Jones finalised his squad for the tour of Australia, Care was taking no chances.
His return, then, is testament to both his form and his perseverance.
Jones, as tends to be the case, had refused to be swayed by the groundswell of public support for Care who, since his last England cap, has excelled for Harlequins. He did, however, send Care a message of congratulations on his form in late April and the 35-year-old spotted his chance.
He decided to “shoot his shot” and ask Jones for a meeting where he would try to convince the head coach of his desire to resurrect his England career.
The pair have not always seen eye to eye but Jones will have appreciated the bold approach and with the modern game – not to mention Australia’s fast pitches – suiting a livewire scrum-half, Care’s shot has hit the target.
“It’s something you think will never happen again. Deep down you go: ‘Maybe there’s a chance.’ I’ve just tried to enjoy it and love every second of it.”
Indeed, it seems that for Care being able to let go of the disappointment of finding himself on the outside looking in has ultimately led to his return.
“I definitely think I’m a better player now than I was four years ago. Even three years ago. The main thing I’ve been trying to focus on is enjoyment, getting the most out of the game, trying to help the team. That frees me up, when I’m not thinking about things too much, that’s my type of game, the instinctive type of game. When I overthink stuff I don’t play my best rugby.
“That’s what I try to do, I try to play with no fear, be brave and have fun. When you’ve been in it like I was for quite a while, you appreciate what you do, you’re playing for England. But when you can’t do that any more, can’t get back in, it makes you want it even more.”
Care is one of 10 players – and only three backs – in the current squad who were part of the group who clinched England’s first series win in Australia six years ago so his experience will be vital in helping players such as his Harlequins teammate Marcus Smith to adapt to the rigours of touring down under.
Echoing Jones’s recent warning, Care acknowledged that England are not much liked in Australia but he believes England’s only tour of this World Cup cycle could prove pivotal in moulding Jones’s squad for France 2023.
“When you go to Australia you have to be brave, you have to go to try and win the game. It’s a place where you’re not particularly liked, which is great. I think the young lads will really enjoy that. I think it’s a great opportunity to develop a great relationship which will hopefully last, put us in great stead for the autumn and the Six Nations and hopefully the World Cup. Going to places like Australia, hostile environments, and trying to get a win, that will be really beneficial for some of these young boys.
“Every game for Eddie, you know what he’s like, he’s a winner, he wants to win every single game. He wants to get better every single training session and when it’s against his old team and obviously where he’s from I think it adds a little bit of extra spice. England v Australia needs no more bigging up. It means a lot to them as it does to us and I’m sure the squad will give it everything.”