England reject Care faces sexual assault allegation

Bailed Harlequins player denies accusation as police inquiry adds to his growing list of troubles

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The Independent Online

Danny Care, the troubled Harlequins scrum-half jettisoned by England after committing two alcohol-related offences either side of Christmas and who was cautioned for being drunk and disorderly after a further incident earlier this month, has been questioned by officers from the West Yorkshire force investigating an allegation of sexual assault on a woman in Leeds. It emerged yesterday that Care is on police bail pending further inquiries.

The alleged incident took place in the early hours of 4 March – the same day Care was arrested by British Transport Police after being seen urinating on the steps of a Leeds hotel. According to a Harlequins spokesman, he denies the accusation made against him.

"We are fully aware of all the facts," the spokesman said, "and will continue to support Danny as he addresses this situation."

In December, the 25-year-old Yorkshireman was fined £80 for being drunk and disorderly after his club's Heineken Cup game with Toulouse. Then, in the small hours of New Year's Day, he was caught driving over the limit and was subsequently handed a 16-month driving ban, together with a fine of £3,100. There was also a £10,000 fine from his club, who ordered Care to participate in an inner-city community programme.

It has been a desperate few weeks for Care, who missed last year's World Cup through injury.

One of the bitter ironies of the Six Nations just past was that the man who decided Care could play no part in that tournament either was Stuart Lancaster, who had spent more time with the player and done more to shape his career than just about any coach in the country. The two men worked closely together at Leeds, where Care shot through the youth ranks like a tracer bullet, and when Lancaster was asked to run the England show on a caretaker basis, he assumed his protégé would challenge hard for a place in the red-rose line-up for the opening championship game with Scotland at Murrayfield.

That idea went west when Care followed up his pre-Christmas arrest with a second one less than a month later. Lancaster, who had decided that a restoration of behavioural standards following the gruesome excesses of the World Cup campaign must be the principal item on his agenda, felt he had no option but to make an example of the player.

"Danny's behaviour has been unacceptable and he understands that," the coach said at the time. "He's hurting: in fact, I think he's hurting more than any player I've ever worked with. But he's made two very poor errors of judgement in the space of three weeks, both drink-related, and while I don't think he has a lifestyle problem, I can't condone what he's done. However, I believe he'll come back stronger. I hope this gives him the kick-start he needs to be a world-class No 9."

It did not quite work out that way. The hotel steps incident, while not in itself of the same magnitude as the previous misdemeanours, was a body blow to both Care and Lancaster. The player argued that the issue was "more one of a small bladder than of excessive drinking", but the coach said the two of them would be having a "long talk", adding: "From a public profile point of view, there is a responsibility that goes with the job of being a professional sportsman.

"Knowing Danny as I do, I don't think he has a drink problem. I do think he has a long-term future as an England player. But he has to make better decisions. As an international player under scrutiny all the time, he does not want to be putting himself in difficult positions."

Care has been playing regularly for Harlequins – he is scheduled to start this afternoon's Premiership game with Bath at The Stoop – and with the England scrum-half position in a state of flux, he had every chance of being selected for this summer's tour of South Africa. Maybe he still has high hopes. But these last three months have been deeply damaging, to the extent that last autumn's World Cup disappointment must seem a mere trifle by comparison.