Care out in the cold after 'errors of judgement'
Scrum-half dropped from England's Six Nations squad following drink-driving arrest and has tough task to save international career
If injury cost Danny Care the chance to enjoy the full World Cup experience with England – excessive boozing, dwarf throwing, ball switching, harbour diving, losing to France in the quarter-finals, that kind of thing – he has been making up for it ever since. Before Christmas, the Harlequins scrum-half was arrested on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly, given a fixed penalty fine and told by all and sundry to reflect on the error of his ways. Did he do so? Apparently not. In the early hours of New Year's Day he tested positive for driving over the limit and will now appear in court on 16 January.
As a consequence, he will play no part in the forthcoming Six Nations Championship. The England caretaker coach, Stuart Lancaster, met with Care and the Quins director of rugby, Conor O'Shea, on Monday and informed the 25-year-old player he would not be in the new 32-man elite squad when it is named next week. "It was not a decision I made lightly, but it was the right decision," Lancaster said yesterday. "His behaviour has been unacceptable. He understands that."
Care has also been fined £10,000 by his club and ordered to participate in the Londoners' inner-city coaching programme until the end of next season, by which point he may be back in the England frame. There again, he may not. The Rugby Football Union, fed up to the back teeth with player transgressions following the laughably undisciplined World Cup campaign, made it clear that omission from the Six Nations was the starting point of Care's punishment but not necessarily the end of it.
Lancaster and Care go back a long way – the two worked closely together during their time at Leeds – and the coach was not joking when he said he took no pleasure in reading his protégé the riot act. "Danny is hurting at the moment," Lancaster said. "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 it gives him the kick-start he needs to be a world-class No 9."
While the coach insisted he did not take the bad behaviour at the World Cup into account in punishing a man who had been a long way from New Zealand when the misdemeanours were committed, Lancaster did acknowledge that this latest incident reinforced the widespread perception that England's elite rugby players perform rather better at the bar than they do on the field. "I think it's important that we change the way people think," he acknowledged. "When I visit my grassroots club on a Sunday morning, I want the parents and children there to see the England team as something in which they can take pride."
Graham Rowntree, the one member of the World Cup coaching team to survive the tournament and its painful aftermath, has seen an awful lot of dodgy behaviour at first hand and is, as he confessed yesterday, heartily fed up with talking about it. Hence his aggressive condemnation of Care. "This, you cannot tolerate," said the forwards strategist. "You just can't do this kind of thing as a leading professional sportsman. We want players to be able to relax; we don't want to operate in a prison camp environment. But there must be limits. People have to know when to go home."
Wisely, Care was open and honest in addressing the issue. "I have decided not to contest the charge as I want to bring this to a close swiftly rather than have it hanging over my head for a year or more," he said. "I'm devastated. It's now up to me to get my head down, keep playing well and learn from my actions."
Ben Youngs of Leicester, the current first-choice No 9 at Test level, and the inexperienced Joe Simpson of Wasps are certain to be included in the Six Nations squad. Lee Dickson of Northampton, one of the hardest-working players in the Premiership, should be among the contenders for the third half-back berth.
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