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Rugby Union: Danny Care interview

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Rugby Union: Danny Care interview
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After a torrid 14 months on and off the field, Danny Care cemented his place back in the England side against Fiji last weekend. And, he tells Sport, he’s in no mood to give his international shirt up just yet …

While a sin bin just 11 minutes into the autumn Test schedule is far from the ideal start, Danny Care might be forgiven for the slight grin across his face as he left the field to ’cool off’ against Fiji last week.

After the journey he’s been on in the last year, just being back as the first-choice number nine for his country is enough to keep Care smiling. Ever since injury ruled the Harlequins man out of England’s World Cup touring party late last year, Care’s problems off the field have been well publicised.

Two drink-related offences within the space of three weeks, a police caution for urinating in public and an arrest over an alleged sexual assault (later dropped by the police) all contributed to him losing his place with the national side when he was dropped from the Six Nations squad in January.

Vowing to clean up his act, Care bounced back to help Harlequins claim Aviva Premiership glory, before returning to the international fold with a man-of-the-match performance against South Africa in the summer. Having played a key role – his early misdemeanour aside – in England’s 54-12 win over Fiji last week, Care has Australia in his sights tomorrow. Whatever happens at Twickenham this weekend, then, don’t expect to see a smile far from his face.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster 14 months for you. How much does this season represent a fresh start?
“Yeah definitely, this season is a massive clean slate for me. I’m not looking back at all, I’m just looking forward. And the way the season finished – winning the Premiership and getting on the South Africa tour – was a great way to start again. I had a good pre-season, we’ve had a good start with Harlequins and I’m obviously delighted to be back in the England squad for the autumn. Everything’s going well at the moment, and I’m really enjoying life.“

Was there any one moment that made you realise you were going down a bad road?
“Obviously missing the Six Nations was a massive wake-up call for me. To be fit and playing well but not being able to play for my country because of the stuff I’d done off the field was very hard to take – that made me more determined to sort things out and get back in an England shirt.“

Do you regret the off-field headlines, then?
“Of course, but I wouldn’t change what happened to me in the past year because that’s given me the drive and determination to play well for my club and get my place back in the England side. It’s such a privilege to be in that position, and I was letting a lot of people down with my actions. I was unlucky with what happened, I think, at times, but I put myself in the situations to be in trouble – so I know I was at fault for a lot of it. I’m putting it all behind me and I’m just delighted to be back playing.“

You’re back in the nine shirt for England, but Ben Youngs and Lee Dickson are pushing you all the way. Are you the sort of player who likes that challenge?
“Yeah, definitely. There’s some great competition at nine; it just means that I know I have to play well every week at Quins, and I’m sure the others are the same. I’m just trying to play as well as I can to be in with a shout of starting at nine. That’s where I want to be, and I’ve got a lot of confidence – I know that if I play well, I can do a good job for England.“

Harlequins have played together so long and have such a natural creative game. Does Stuart Lancaster tell you to bring that to the international stage?
“Yeah, I think the way Quins play is very similar to the philosophy that Stuart wants to play. We want to be an attacking team, we want to physically dominate teams, and we want to be able to score from anywhere. That obviously fits in with how we play at Quins, with our high-tempo game. From a personal point of view, Stuart’s all about scrum halves who like to run with the ball and keep the game moving quickly, and that’s music to my ears because that’s how I play. I think we have a great philosophy here in the England side, and hopefully we can put that on the park in the next few weeks.“

So he’s not trying to rein you in at all?
“All he has told me is to keep playing the way I’m playing, bring the energy and the buzz that we have at club level to international, and try to translate that into an England shirt. It’s great to be able to go out there, express myself and have a bit of fun.“

How different is Stuart Lancaster’s England to Martin Johnson’s England?
“There’s definitely a different feel around the squad, because there’s a lot of new faces. The likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Lewis Moody, Mike Tindall were here – characters who have been in the game a long time and know the game so well – in the squad a year ago, and they’ve all gone. It was a bit weird the first time I came back in, because younger players are speaking up a bit more, so it took me a while to kind of get used to that.“

We imagine it didn’t take long for you to fit in…
“Yeah, I slotted in quite well because I don’t mind speaking a bit, obviously! But yeah, it’s a different philosophy and a different environment here now. The younger players have the same passion for the shirt, though, because everyone wants to represent their country – especially at Twickenham, in front of the brilliant home crowd.“

How big are these games?
“Obviously we know the implications of the World Cup rankings, so we know we need to play well. We want to win every game, especially because we’re at home. Your country expects you to win at home, we expect to win at home. We want to be known as the best in the world, so we have to beat the best in the world. It’s such an exciting time to be involved in the camp, playing four games back to back. We’re loving it.“

How important is it not to underestimate Australia?
“It’s an absolute massive game against one of the best teams in the world – on their day, probably the best when they get on the attack. Their backs are incredible and they can score from anywhere, plus England versus Australia is always a massive game. We just hope we can do ourselves proud on our home ground.“

Mark Coughlan @coffers83

Care spoke on behalf of England rugby at the team’s official Eden Park formalwear suit fitting