Danny Care experienced a November to forget in England colours but as Stuart Lancaster prepares to pick his Six Nations squad later this month, the Harlequins scrum-half is a man on a mission, desperate to prove his doubters wrong.
The 28-year-old suffered a dramatic fall from grace in November. Initially selected as Lancaster’s premier scrum-half – Care started in the defeats against New Zealand and South Africa, winning his 50th international cap in the process.
However, he was dropped for the victories against Samoa and Australia, with Saracens’ Richard Wigglesworth promoted to the bench behind the starting Ben Youngs, leaving Care as the third cab off the scrum-half rank for England.
With a home World Cup on the horizon, Care had seemed Lancaster’s go-to man to fill the decision-making void at number nine, but in just a matter of months the Harlequins man now faces a fight to even make the matchday 23, with Lee Dickson, Joe Simpson, Wigglesworth and Youngs all impressing over the festive period.
And Care, whose club colleague Nick Evans suggested had been made a scapegoat by Lancaster back in November, admits he’s still hurting after his international axing.
“When you lose your place in any team it’s not nice,” said Care, who was visiting Bishop Perrin C of E Primary School in Twickenham to support the Aviva Tackling Numbers programme – an innovative and engaging programme about numbers and financial education fun.
“I was obviously delighted to start the autumn internationals and I got my 50th cap in the second game.
“Then I wasn’t involved in the last two matches and that was really hard to take but as a rugby player you have to get on with it.
“You have to go back to your club, try to play well and hopefully come the Six Nations I will be back in there.
“I have to treat every Harlequins game as a chance to prove I should be the starting England scrum-half. Every game I play for Quins is an opportunity to showcase what I’m about.
“If I can play well, put in some good performances and help Quins to a few wins then that will stick in the coaches’ minds and help them try to get me back in the team.”
With the World Cup now nine months away, Care is all too aware a successful Six Nations for England will see Lancaster’s starting 9, in all likelihood, hang on to the jersey for the start of the tournament in September.
An indifferent season for his club-side Harlequins domestically has added to Care’s challenge as he looks to oust Leicester Tiger Youngs from the scrum-half berth for England’s Six Nations opener against Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
But the lure of a home World Cup is such a motivation for the Harlequin that Care admits he will leave no stone unturned with his performances in his bid to impress Lancaster and the England coaching staff.
“The Six Nations will have quite a big bearing on who Stuart Lancaster wants to pick for the World Cup, so it would be nice to be involved in that,” he added.
“If not, there would be some huge things to play for in the rest of the season with Quins and then some pretty big pre-World Cup games to play in.
“So hopefully the door is open for anyone and if they are playing well then they’ll get their chance.
“A home World Cup is definitely something that would be exciting to be a part of but there’s a lot of rugby to be played before then.
“If you get caught looking too far ahead, then you will stumble a bit. I’ve got to keep working hard, play every game as well as I can and see where it takes me.
“I’ve had a good battle with Ben Youngs for the England scrum-half role over the last few years and Richard Wigglesworth is in their as well.
“That’s two good scrum-halves there – I enjoy playing against them and enjoy training with them.
“When you play against each other you want to try and get one over on the other but I think the three of us have a good amount of respect for each other.
“Whoever is picked on the day, I will shake their hand and congratulate them and I think it’s the same with those two the other way around.
“But I don’t want to concentrate on the performances of others; it’s about how I’m playing and I’m desperate to get back with England again.”
Danny Care is supporting Aviva Tackling Numbers, an innovative maths programme for 7-9 year olds. The programme aims to improve numeracy levels through rugby based exercises and is run in partnership with Premiership Rugby. Visit www.aviva.co.uk/tacklingnumbers