Danny Care: Harlequins' livewire gunning for England

An electrifying start to the season from Harlequins' No.9 Danny Care has put him right in contention for the starting England scrum-half shirt for the autumn internationals
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The Independent Online

He's one of the hottest young properties in the Premiership and is leading the field to claim the England No.9 shirt this autumn, but there is no danger of Danny Care letting the success go to his head - or he will have his mum to deal with!

The 21-year-old Harlequins scrum-half has made a dazzling start to the season. Deservedly voted the club's player of the month for October, Care is the heartbeat of a free-flowing, high-flying Quins side who are the Premiership's leading try-scorers.

And the media have been quick to lavish praise on the rising star. Care, however, refuses to get carried away by all the attention. "My mum and dad come down from Leeds to pretty much every game. They are great and very supportive but my mum's probably my biggest critic as well," he laughs. "She said to me after the game last week: 'Your passing wasn't very good today, Danny.' And I said to her: 'Mum, what the hell do you know about passing?' And she said it in front of Dean Richards! Stuff like that keeps you grounded."

Mrs Care's analysis apart, the former schoolboy footballer with Sheffield Wednesday has good reason to be delighted with his progress this season.

His darting runs around the fringes and the constant threat his electric pace poses have put opposing defences on the back foot and created space for the talented Quins backs around him.

It's something that will not have been lost on England manager Martin Johnson nor his new backs coach Brian Smith as they look to provide the Red Rose with a much needed cutting edge in the autumn international series against the Pacific Islands, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Smith has been in regular contact with Care this season, analysing his performances and highlighting areas he needs to work on.

The diehard Liverpool fan would seem to be a shoe-in for Johnson's first team sheet. Care, however, is only too aware of the potential pitfalls of international rugby.

The third choice scrum-half at Quins for much of last season behind Andy Gomarsall and Steven So'oialo, Care forced his way into the starting line-up at The Stoop at the turn of the year and his impressive form was rewarded with a surprise inclusion on England's two-Test tour of New Zealand in the summer.

Rob Andrew's depleted squad were defeated heavily in both games but Care, making his international debut in the first Test, was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing trip. "If you'd asked me this time last year if I thought I'd be playing for England, I'd have laughed," he says. "The England call came out of the blue because I was third choice at Quins for a lot of last season then suddenly one of the three England scrum-halves.

"The tour was disappointing for the team but I was pleased with the way I played and pleased to win my first two caps. A lot of people have asked me what it's like to play against New Zealand and to face the Haka and stuff like that. It's very special, but the first 15 minutes is something I will never experience again in my life - it's just so fast. But after that, you settle into it and it's just another game of rugby. I like having the pressure on me and playing in the big games."

He adds: "I spoke to Matt Dawson the night before the first Test and he gave me the advice that the first 20 minutes would be something I would never have faced in my career and he was right. I was behind the posts early on after we conceded an early try thinking 'bloody hell, I'm knackered here'. But you get used to the pace and the intensity. Getting to the breakdown and getting the ball away as quickly as you can is the thing I want to work on, otherwise the defences get set."

A disappointing tour was to take a darker turn for Care when he was wrongly implicated in the now infamous 'Auckland four' incident. Subsequently cleared of any wrong doing by Judge Jeff Blackett's report to the RFU, it's testament to his increasing maturity that he has put the most difficult chapter in his so far short career behind him so quickly and responded in the best way possible - on the pitch.

"I said from the start that there was absolutely nothing in it," he says, "I was just waiting for it to all go away. It's not nice when people are saying stuff about you when it's not true. I didn't really care because I knew people would know the truth eventually and that came out in the report."

If anyone questioned Care's commitment to his burgeoning career at the time, his form so far in only his second full season of top flight rugby has emphatically answered them.

A tough pre-season conditioning programme has bulked him up to 13st 7lb, the heaviest he has ever been - he is quick to point out he feels great for it and has lost none of his pace - and the work in the gym is evident in his visibly muscular 5ft 9in frame. A close cropped haircut has completed the transformation: Care means business this season.

Fiercely competitive by his own admission, whether it's thrashing his housemate, Harlequins centre Jordan Turner-Hall at FiFA 09 on the Playstation - "he struggles," laughs Care - or beating his best mate David Strettle at their new found hobby, golf - "We only play nine holes because Strets is not very good. He hasn't got the best technique; although he hits it straight, it rolls across the ground!" - Care's attitude is infectious.

Indeed, there is a feelgood factor at Quins, an environment in which the young scrum-half is clearly thriving.

"The good thing about Quins is that it's a really tight group," he says. "We all live pretty close to each other and go out together. Everyone is enjoying playing together and that's so important. It's the nature of the players we've got here and the coaching that Dean Richards is instilling in us.

"We've got a good mixture of youth and experience - attack-minded players who can throw the ball around and score tries.

"This year is a big year for me. Everyone talks about the difficult second season and how you need to follow up a good first year, but I'm loving my rugby at the moment and I want to play as well as I can for Harlequins and England, if selected."

A modest response from a player so heavily tipped to start in the opening international against the Pacific Islands at Twickenham on November 8.

"I'm desperate to play for England and it's really exciting to see what it's going to be like under Martin Johnson," he says, "and I want to be a part of that. The coaches that he's brought in, like Brian Smith, I think are going to bring something different that England haven't had before and I think it will suit my game. It would be great to help England to get back to where they should be."

With England's rising young rugby stars under more media scrutiny that ever before, Care is still relatively unknown outside of rugby circles, not that he is complaining.

He doesn't envy his former England Under-21 team-mate and good friend Danny Cipriani's rise to the front pages of the tabloids although, as he admits, it does have its advantages.

"I haven't pulled a Kelly Brook yet," he laughs, "but I've been working on Cips to set me up with a nice girl like that! Cips is a good mate, but I'm lucky that I don't get noticed much because I don't stand out."

That could all change by the end of the autumn international series. Now, what will his mum say about that?

This story was sourced from International Rugby News