x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

From England golden boy to bete noire, Danny Care is on his way back

Danny Care can tell you from experience - the faster you rise, the harder the fall and the climb back is a long one, writes Paul Radley.

Danny Cipriani, centre, is looking for a new start.
Danny Cipriani, centre, is looking for a new start.

Danny Care can tell you from experience - the faster you rise, the harder the fall and the climb back is a long one, writes Paul Radley

Whatever happened to the likely lads? They are still knocking around, if you look closely enough.

Take Danny Cipriani. That little lost soul is still clinging on grimly, currently outcast by his Super rugby franchise, and looking for another new start wherever he can find one.

The English fly-half-come-celebrity is the walking embodiment of the adage: whom the gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.

And Mathieu Bastareaud, too. His star waned as soon as it reached its zenith at about age 20. Now, the powerful Stade Francais centre is on the outside wanting to be let back in.

"There are better players today at outside-centre than Mathieu Bastareaud," Marc Lievremont, the France coach, said after jettisoning him from his plans earlier this year. "We can regret it, given his enormous potential."

Five years ago, Cipriani and Bastareaud were two of the most notable bright young prospects who came to the UAE to play in the IRB Under 19 World Championship.

The world's finest rugby playing teenagers all headed to these shores as unknowns. All shared aspirations of fame and fortune, but the path to the top has run smoother for some than others.

Of the Australia side who won that competition at the old Dubai Exiles ground in Al Awir, as many as nine players have realistic hopes of playing in the World Cup in New Zealand in September.

Elsewhere, many have graduated to full international rugby in the intervening five years, but the development pathway in the northern hemisphere has been potted.

While Cipriani and Bastareaud remain under suspicion, Danny Care, the real star of England's class of 2006, has already made the journey from golden boy to bete noire, and is on his way back again.

After his finest club season to date, the 24-year-old scrum-half is now focusing on regaining the England No 9 shirt from Ben Youngs in time for the start of the World Cup.

"The World Cup is a massive goal and an ambition I have worked towards for a very long time, so I'm looking forward to getting stuck into it," Care said.

He is currently in the middle of three weeks off between winning the Amlin Challenge Cup final with his club side, Harlequins, and meeting up with England for their pre-World Cup training camps.

His down time involves a "quiet" break in Las Vegas. When he says quiet, he means it. Having found himself involved in two of rugby's biggest recent controversies, albeit as an innocent party, Care has had his fill of attention.

In 2008, he and his close friend, David Strettle, were found not guilty of misconduct following a furore which enveloped England's tour of New Zealand, but they were still damned by association with it.

When the Bloodgate scandal then gripped his club, Harlequins, he was starting to wonder at what point he had become such a bad-luck charm.

He hit another road bump when he incurred the wrath of Martin Johnson, the England team manager, when he was sin-binned for an unnecessary shoulder-charge in a high-profile Six Nations match in Ireland.

It still feels like he has ground to make up with Johnson over that incident, yet he can have done little more to press his claims.

Ironically, while Care has been clawing his way back to top form (he was named at scrum-half in the Aviva Premiership team of the season) Youngs, his young rival, has had a glimpse of life from the other side. In a quirk of fate, Youngs was yellow-carded for a show of petulance in this year's fateful trip to Ireland with England.

But Care does not wish ill on him.

"You often find you get on best with the guys you are competing with, because they are most similar to you in character," Care said of his friendship with Youngs, who is three years his junior.

Care can plan for the most important four months of his career, in the lead-up to the World Cup, from a position of contentment.

He played a key part in winning the Amlin Cup for Harlequins two weeks ago. It was his brave grubber kick in the dying moments which set up Gonzalo Camacho's decisive try in the 19-18 win over Stade Francais in Cardiff.

It was a sign that his luck has turned: the ball bounced perfectly for the Argentine wing to score. Julien Dupuy, Care's opposite number in the Stade ranks, had tried the same thing in the same corner earlier in the match, but botched it. "He used the wrong foot, you see," said Care, whose apprenticeship at Sheffield Wednesday's academy gives him some authority on football skills.

Given all he has been through, winning that trophy, and with it a place in Europe's leading competition, the Heineken Cup, next season, eclipsed everything else he has done in rugby to date, he said.

"Winning the Six Nations with England was pretty special, but the joy of winning the trophy with Quins was very special," he said. "I have been at the club for five years now and came here to win trophies.

"After all the hard work we have put in, the players, coaches, staff and fans and everything we have been through over the past few years, to win a trophy with your best mates was the best feeling of my career so far."

pradley@thenational.ae