New mature Danny takes extra Care in quest for redemption

Bracken's help has put Quins scrum-half back in England frame after off-the-pitch problems

If extra training has become a way of life for the England scrum-half Danny Care in recent months, it has nothing to do with punishment or penitence – the most obvious explanations that might occur to Care-watchers the length and breadth of the red-rose landscape. The Yorkshireman accepts he is still in payback territory after his brushes with the law either side of last Christmas, but his reason for spending more of his free time on the practice paddock is purely rugby-related.

"I want to be the best half-back in the country," he said after an England team run ahead of this weekend's meeting with the touring Fijians at Twickenham. "The trouble is, there are three No 9s in the squad and we're after the same shirt. It's incredibly competitive. We get on extremely well with each other, but that doesn't change the fact that we're all after one thing. If I want to be the best, I have to train and play exceptionally well every time I have the opportunity. I know how quickly this can be taken away from me."

To that end, Care is working closely with Kyran Bracken, one of his predecessors in the national team. Over recent weeks, the former Bristol and Saracens player has spent many a long hour breaking down his charge's game and building it back up as something stronger, more reliable and more flexible. At the same time, he is arming the 25-year-old Harlequin against the worst ravages of selectorial whim and fancy.

Care, Ben Youngs and Lee Dickson are the three men scrapping for a starting place at the top level, and a very strong group they are too. The last time England were blessed with such riches at scrum-half was in the mid-1990s, when Bracken found himself slugging it out with Austin Healey, Andy Gomarsall and, most demandingly, with Matt Dawson – the man who ultimately emerged victorious, with a fistful of Lions Test caps and a World Cup triumph to his name. Some say Bracken, as technically proficient as he was insanely courageous, would have seen off his greatest rival but for chronic injury problems. Others claim Dawson's great gifts – physical resilience, instinctive ruthlessness, a bottomless well of fighting spirit – were always going to win the day. Both arguments have their merits.

Either way, Bracken understands what his pupil is likely to go through as England head towards the home World Cup in 2015 and is perfectly placed to help him deal with it. "With Kyran, it's all about getting the basics right," said Care. "His style was very different to mine: he wasn't so much of a running scrum-half, but his passing and kicking games were the best around. If I can improve in those areas and become better at controlling the tempo of a match, I'll be a more mature player."

Maturity is an important word for Care these days. The off-field excesses of last season, all of them to do with the demon drink, saw him jettisoned for the entire Six Nations championship; indeed, he played in the third and final Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth – brilliantly, as it turned out – only because Youngs was incapacitated.

"I go back a long way with Stuart Lancaster [the England head coach] – we first worked together when I was 14 or 15 – and virtually the first thing Stuart had to do when he took over the national team was throw me out of the squad," he remarked, guiltily. "He said it was the worst thing he had to do. But he also told me that it didn't mean my England career was at an end. He gave me a lot of encouragement and I'm grateful for it. I'll never put myself in that position again.

"Am I more mature? I think so, both as a player and a person. And more focused, too. I'm still pretty laid-back as a character but I spend much more time analysing what I'm doing. In the old days, I wouldn't even look at the video if I thought I'd played alright. Now, I work on my skills day to day. It's all about rugby as far as I'm concerned.

"Last season, I lost sight of what was important to me and it showed in my game. I let my standards slip. I can't afford to let that happen a second time and I won't. I'm 25 now. I'm getting on a bit."

Changing times at No 9

England's old guard...

Player/Tests/Points/Tries

Kyran Bracken 51/15/3

Andy Gomarsall 35/37/6

Matt Dawson 84/111/18

... and the current crop

Danny Care 33/23/4

Lee Dickson 7/0/0

Ben Youngs 24/30/6

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week