Danny Care: Flying under the radar
November 29, 2013
Danny Care wings the ball out for Harlequins © PA Photos
As the 657 remaining days are ticked off before the first ball is struck in anger in the 2015 World Cup, England have 20 matches left to get themselves into title-challenging shape. The 23-man squad who faced New Zealand will be able to bottle that hurt and use it as a motivational tool. For those who hoped to be in the squad, motivation will have to be drawn from elsewhere - perhaps that feeling of rejection, maybe anger or a desire to prove anyone and everyone wrong.
For Danny Care, while rugby has given him a 2012 Aviva Premiership winner's medal, when he sits down at the end of his career and assesses the haul of memorabilia his father has collected at their family home in Leeds, he will find a scrapbook full of articles written on him; some will be complimentary, others less so.
"You ask any sportsman, you have your ups and your downs, it's never plain sailing," Care told ESPN. "You get injuries at bad times; you don't get picked for certain things. You have to pick yourself and focus on the next job. You can't rest on your laurels; you must shift your focus on to the next game. You have to get over things pretty quickly, it's harsh, but you can't waste time getting angry. You've got to keep going and keep focused."
He has had to endure his fair share of disappointments over the last 20 or so months, some self-induced and others natural occurrences of professional spot. The nadir occurred in January 2012 when he was removed from the Six Nations squad due to off-field ill-discipline - "that was a tough pill to take" he concedes. This followed the setback of missing the 2011 World Cup through a seemingly innocuous toe injury. But since then, triumphs, tribulations and setbacks have been rugby-based; no headlines in tabloids on the front pages, instead he has personified the two sides of the professional sport coin on the back pages.
"The way the media is, they like to build people up very quickly," Care adds. "A good friend of mine, Danny Cipriani, from 13 or 14 everyone was tipping him to be the best player in the world. It's hard to live up to that billing and it's easy for people to then knock you down. It comes with the territory, if you're playing rugby and you're playing well, it's up to you to live up to those expectations."
For Care, his ever-present focus is getting back into the England side. He admits he was "really disappointed in not getting in the Lions squad" and the decision was then made, along with Stuart Lancaster, to sit out England's summer tour to Argentina as Care, for the first time since he was 17, had a proper break from the sport.
"I went over to Thailand for a few weeks and forgot about rugby. I had a brilliant time and met a girlfriend. I didn't watch any rugby out there and you don't really get much time to switch off so it was nice."
But while there were clear benefits of spending time away from the sport, such is the ruthless nature of the game, whenever someone is injured, dropped or absent, there is always another individual ready to step in and take their place.
England's scrum-half lottery is still in full rotating order. Care was restricted to just 30 minutes playing time during the autumn Tests with Lee Dickson the man currently clutching the number nine jersey. Care admits the lack of Test game time was "frustrating" though he harbours no regrets over opting to take the break in the summer, rather than ploughing on and playing in Argentina.
"It's all kinds of hindsight and maybe if I was there [in Argentina], I'd have been playing. It's one of those things that happens in rugby, there are a lot of people involved, those in favour and out of favour. At the moment he has the shirt, is playing well and it's up to me, if I get another chance, to take it back and keep it."
But akin to 2003, when Matt Dawson, Andy Gomarsall and Kyran Bracken were all holding different corners of the shirt, there is still plenty of time for Care to get back into the mix.
"I had it [the shirt] for a couple of years, then Youngsy came in and took it and now it's Lee. It's good to have that competition as you know that in every game you're playing, you have to play well and the lads are snapping on each other's heels. I know I can do a good job for England if I get picked."
Proudly showing off his Movember effort © Getty Images
When England played against Australia back on November 2 that match was understandably at the epicentre of rugby coverage in the UK. But along the M1, in Leicester, Harlequins put together their best performance of the season. They defeated the Tigers on their own patch 23-16 with Care excelling at scrum-half. It was a match which passed under the radar and he is enjoying getting on with his rugby away from the media glare.
"It's nice to be getting on with my rugby and going back to Quins and being with my mates. We've won the last three games so it's going alright at the moment. To go to Leicester and win, you've got to play well when you go down there."
Like Care, the team are going about their business in a quietly efficient fashion. For some, Quins' early season form was seen as the death knell for this crop of players, but Care is adamant "our belief will never die".
This Sunday, with England put to bed until February, Care's attention is solely on Harlequins and their match against Newcastle Falcons. He will come up against his old coach Dean Richards and is looking forward to the reunion.
There will also be a number of styled, pruned and sculpted moustaches on show as Movember comes to a close. Care has embraced this, along with Dylan Hartley and various other members of the England squad, and has grown quite fond of his additional facial hair. "I've quite enjoyed having a 'tache. It's something I'm contemplating keeping for a few more days in December."
While that additional facial fuzz may fail to survive the pre-Christmas cull, Care clearly hopes, like all those who are English-qualified, to become a permanent member of the Test side. Too young for the 2007 World Cup, he clearly pinned his hopes on 2011. That was taken away from him but having learnt from the experiences and channelled them into motivation, the 2015 showpiece could yet be a moment to surpass his finest personal moment to date.
"I just want to win things. The season we had when we won the Premiership was the best feeling I've ever had in my life. I'm quite a competitive person, I do not like losing. Every game I want to win, I want to be successful. I want to play for England and I want to win the World Cup. I missed out on the 2011 World Cup so to play in the tournament at home and to win it... well that's every boy's dream."
© Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.