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Danny Care is not done yet – England’s great survivor on Scotland and newfound ‘freedom’

Interview: The veteran scrum-half is set to win his 99th cap against Scotland on Saturday as he continues to write an unexpected final chapter in his England career

Harry Latham-Coyle
Thursday 22 February 2024 07:20 GMT
Six Nations: Full Contact trailer

The shadows may be lengthening for Danny Care as he dances in his international twilight but the scrum-half has lost little of his trademark spark. With a cheery grin and a wry comment or three, he bounces into a room at England’s Pennyhill Park training base, fresh off the training paddock. “Fancy this,” Care quips, looking out on the dipping afternoon sun and back on a career on which it seemed to have twice set.

If his axing in 2019 before the World Cup left a slim chance of a recall, then a second unedifying dumping, after a surprise recall for the 2022 tour of Australia, appeared to have slammed the book shut for good. But Steve Borthwick brought him back for a final chapter in England white ahead of the World Cup, and Care responded by re-establishing himself in the buzzing bench role for which he has always been so well suited.

With Alex Mitchell injured, there’s every chance of a start against Scotland on Saturday that will be his first in the Six Nations for six years. It will be a 99th England cap in total – and the crepuscular Care isn’t done yet.

“I never gave up on playing for England for the opportunities to play in games like this,” he says of a fixture which England have won only once in six years. “It doesn’t get much bigger than the Calcutta Cup up in Murrayfield, whether it is your first time out there or, for me, your 99th time playing for England.

Danny Care looks set to start for England against Scotland (Getty)

“It is never easy up there, they make everything difficult from the bus ride in, with the bagpipes to slow you down to make you walk a bit further, but I love it. I love stepping off the bus there and hearing the passion their supporters have and what it means to them. I am dying to get up there and experience that, probably for the last time.”

The veteran scrum-half celebrated his 37th birthday in January and is the second-oldest player in the championship, trailing only WP Nel who turns 38 in April. Two of England’s assistant coaches, including new defence coach Felix Jones, are younger than Care, while squadmate Chandler Cunningham-South had just celebrated his fifth birthday when his Harlequins colleague made his international debut.

As the years advance, many sportspeople obsess over preparation and preservation in a bid for career elongation but Care is different. He has no magic elixir of youth, nor, really, a specialist strategy against senescence – the fact that he still relishes being on a rugby pitch is enough to keep him going as he closes in on an England century.

‘You’ve got to find what works for you. You’ve got to listen to your body’ (PA Wire)

“I’ve definitely put a bigger emphasis on my recovery in the last few years but I feel better now than I did four or five years ago,” he explains. “I know what I need to do to be ready to peak on Saturday. The sauna and the ice bath are our best friends.

“I’ve always been quite lucky in that I’ve not been massively into nutrition and believe fully in it, which the nutritionists hate me for. I don’t think I’ve cracked it but I’m 37 and I like to think I’ve shown an alternative way of doing it. Rather than all the protein and the supplements every day…

“The thing is, everyone is so different. What works for me doesn’t work for Dan Cole or Joe Marler. You’ve got to find what works for you. You’ve got to listen to your body. But the onfield stuff, I can’t help but run around as fast as I can for as long as I can. I love it. And I know I need to do that to feel zippy and energetic for the weekend and do what I need to do.”

The Harlequins half-back faced Scotland at Murrayfield for the first time in 2010 (Getty)

It helps, Care admits, to be in an environment with so much fresh blood, youngsters like Cunningham-South and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso bringing fresh energy and perspective. The detailed rugby puzzles that Borthwick and Jones – “a genius”, according to Care – are presenting the squad as England look for evolution have also helped keep his mind sharp.

A job in the media is ready and waiting for a man who already co-hosts Rugby Union Weekly, the most popular rugby podcast. With a clutch of young scrum-half terriers nipping at his heels, an England career that began on a tour of New Zealand in 2008 may yet end after this summer’s antipodean adventure, or perhaps even sooner. Negotiations continue over his Harlequins future, and while there are understood to be other options on the table, Care has learned from experience to take each game as it comes, and nothing for granted.

Care is part of England’s old guard with props Joe Marler and Dan Cole (Getty)

“You never know which one is going to be the last one so, in a way, that gives me a freedom to just be myself and really enjoy it. I think that’s something that is hard when you play for England because you’re constantly on the edge of being judged, wanting to do well and stay in the team.

“I don’t care about any of that any more, which is nice. I feel more liberated, I feel more free, I feel like I can just enjoy it. But at the same time knowing just how important my role is in this team. I feel really trusted in this team, and I think Steve has made everyone feel a big part of this.

“I believe in Steve. I think he’s the most open and honest, hardworking coach that I’ve ever played under. That’s all you want as a player. He showed a lot of faith in me, so I feel like I owe him some good performances. If I get the chance on Saturday, then I’ll try and do that for him.”

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