Danny taking Care of himself

Rugby's is getting fiercer says the Quins' scrum-half and England have suffered. But the recent spate of injuries have pushed the No 9 up the international pecking order and he's ready to take full advantage, he tells Tony Roche
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The Independent Online

Danny Care will undergo a medical check at Pennyhill Park on Sunday evening, the result of which will determine if and when he adds to his collection of 11 England caps.

Click here or click the image on the right to launch our guide to England's injury list.

The Harlequins scrum-half, of course, will be treated no differently to any other member of England's Elite Player Squad as manager Martin Johnson battles against a swell-tide of injuries to field a team capable of beating Australia at Twickenham on 7 November.

Johnson wants every player checked medically after the weekend's Guinness Premiership programme before announcing a revised 32-man squad for England's three autumn Tests, when they also play Argentina and New Zealand.

Care, and Paul Hodgson of London Irish, are currently Johnson's two fully-fit half-backs because Harry Ellis of Leicester has suffered a reaction to the knee injury that kept him out of action for nearly a season and was told to rest for two weeks.

It has been that kind of build-up for Johnson, players moving from his squad to the treatment table, the most recent being former England captain and Wasps tighthead prop Phil Vickery, out for at least three months following neck surgery.

Yet Care has a very mature attitude to rugby's increasingly alarming injury toll for a young man of 22. "Ours is a very confrontational and physically demanding sport." he says. "Players accept that as part of our careers. The game is constantly evolving to become faster and fiercer, players get bigger and stronger, the hits get harder and more painful. Some of the hits made by, and taken by, the forwards these days are unbelievable.

"But at the same time, it looks worse to people outside the sport than to us. Bit like being in the eye of a storm as opposed to standing outside, watching it approaching."

Care and Co will give nothing less than everything for their clubs at the weekend. They know an injury could spell the end of England ambitions for another year but are also aware that selection for the jersey can only be bought by total commitment to the one they wear to pay the mortgage.

He is in action at Worcester as Harlequins strive to shake off the disappointment of losing last Saturday's Heineken Cup tie 23-19 to Toulouse, in Care's opinion an ideal preparation for the internationals ahead. "The Premiership asks questions of you every game," he says. "They become much tougher questions in the Heineken Cup. You are stepping up a level when you play in Europe because it is an international arena without anthems and caps.

"We played really well against Toulouse, ran up a 14-0 first-half lead which should have been at least seven points more. But their team comprised 15 internationals. And when we went off the boil for 10 minutes at the start of the second half, they scored two tries. That's their quality, that's your punishment.

"But every game at this level is an education. You must learn from every experience and take that into your international career."

For Care, the original international career of his dreams was all about playing football for England at Wembley Stadium. Given the shattering disappointment of rejection at 14, Care's achievement in playing rugby for England at Twickenham is nothing less than massive.

The Leeds-born son of a football-mad family played rugby at school before accepting an invitation to join the Sheffield Wednesday Academy in 1998. "Football was my first love, Liverpool my team, midfield my chosen role," he recalls. "I enjoyed playing rugby always, but back then, when Wednesday came calling, my rugby jersey didn't see action for three years.

"So yes, it was a huge disappointment when I was taken aside and told 'Son, you are simply too small to make the grade in professional football' and shown the door.

"It was difficult at first. My brother Simon supports Leeds United and my parents, from the West Midlands, are totally divided in that dad follows West Bromwich Albion while mum loves Wolves. You can just imagine what breakfast was like whenever Wolves came up or went down while Albion, as often happens, went in the opposite direction.

"I was always encouraged by my parents to become involved in many sports, so I wasted no time returning to rugby, determined to prove wrong those who said I was incapable of making it in pro sport. I think I'm allowed to say I've achieved that aim, given that the physical demands of rugby union far outweigh those of football. Sometimes I do stop and wonder 'what if...?', but not for long."

Care moved through rugby's representative structure with a single-minded determination. Yorkshire Schools, England Schools, Under-16s, Under-18s, part of the England Sevens squad at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

By then, at 5ft 8in and 13st 4lbs, he had finished three years playing at Headingley for Leeds and signed a three-year contract with Harlequins.

At Leeds he played under the priceless tutelage of former All Black scrum-half, Justin Marshall, and although his early days at Quins saw an uncharacteristic stall that led to the club bringing in England half-back Andy Gomarsall, Care's chipper personality ensured his head would soon bob back up above the waves.

"I'm confident as an individual, you must have self-belief in this business. But this season I admit that I have grown from being the young lad in the corner of the changing room to a man with leadership responsibilities.

"To be really successful, to aim to be the best at scrum-half, you must be a leader and a decision-maker. Scrum-half and fly-half are both major decision-making roles. I recently signed a two-year contract extension which will keep me playing at Twickenham Stoop until 2011, and I aim to become a good influence in leadership terms for the lads in the Academy."

As debuts go, they simply do not come any tougher than against New Zealand at Eden Park. But that was Care's first cap, in June 2008, and he has displayed a growing maturity since, managing to curb the attitude that led him to being sin-binned against Ireland in Dublin in February as England were pipped 14-13.

Of course, there was also "Bloodgate" the ridiculous blood injury fabrication during the Heineken Cup quarter-final against eventual winners Leinster that led to a three-year ban for Quins rugby director, Dean Richards and a four month suspension for winger Tom Williams.

"It was a very difficult summer for everyone at Harlequins, particularly when you discovered that some people were labelling us cheats," Care says. "For those uninvolved in that business, and that's the vast majority, it was not very nice to think that outsiders, people who don't know you, were viewing all of us as cheats.

"I think rugby suffered collective amnesia as a result of that business because people appear to have forgotten that we finished runners-up in the Guinness Premiership, and that we are a damn good team.

"We turned a big corner when we fought back to draw 17-17 at Newcastle then beat Bath 13-11. I believe we'll prove a lot of critics wrong by the end of the season."

It is not difficult to imagine that Care will also prove Martin Johnson right. Sheffield Wednesday's loss, and all that...

Danny Care was speaking at a launch event in the City of London to announce QBE as the official insurance partner of the Guinness Premiership