Harlequins star Danny Care admits he's 'playing without a burden'

Harlequins Danny Care admits he’s ‘playing without a burden’ after falling out of the England fold, the in-form scrum-half feels liberated and is back in the Lions mix this summer

  • Danny Care, 34, is the currently the form scrum-half in Britain and Ireland  
  • The Harlequins star has helped lead the side into Premiership title contention 
  • Despite no longer playing for England, Care is in the mix for the Lions tour 
  • The veteran scrum-half says the lack of pressure has given him freedom to play

You could say the Lions were the elephant in the room. Danny Care wanted to steer clear but when the subject came up he did not duck it.

The Harlequins veteran is arguably the form scrum-half in Britain and Ireland. The 34-year-old has been imperious as his club have surged into Premiership title contention in recent months and he has just been named the league’s player of the month — an accolade which last came his way 13 years ago.

His performances have drawn acclaim and suggestions that, despite no longer playing for England, he should be a contender for Warren Gatland’s squad to tour South Africa this summer. Care feels uneasy talking about the sudden clamour but flattered too.

Danny Care is playing with the carefree attitude that has propelled him into Lions contention

The scrum-half, 34, has played a starring role in Harlequins’ Premiership chase this season

‘It has been really nice to hear people throw my name into contention for the Lions,’ he says. ‘It is something I’ve not been part of before and I know from speaking to close friends how special it is, so to be talked about in that mix is amazing, but I don’t know if the coaches are talking about me at all.

‘I didn’t play in the Six Nations so it is going to be very tough to force a hand there, but I’m desperate to play as well as I can for Quins and, if someone in the Lions likes what they see, then it would be a dream come true.’

There. Elephant tackled.

Talking to Care, the irony that soon becomes apparent is that he is producing international-class rugby partly because he is not being forensically assessed as a potential international player. He last represented his country in November 2018 and now has the liberated look of a man no longer striving to prove himself as a Test candidate.

So, is it a fitting pun to say there is a carefree sense of fun about his game now? ‘Yeah, massively,’ he says. ‘I haven’t got an England coach to worry about. I’m not worrying about making wrong decisions to be scrutinised and be a reason why I don’t get picked for England.

‘That ship has unfortunately sailed but it has probably given me the licence to back myself and enjoy it a lot more because there’s less pressure on me to perform. I’m playing without a burden and hopefully that is getting the best out of me.

Care last played for England in 2018 but says the lack of pressure lets him play with freedom

The 34-year-old was awarded Player of the Month last month and is the in-form scrum-half

‘I’ve got to perform for the coaches at Quins but I’m not being compared against every other scrum-half for a spot in the England team. I do feel that there are less eyes on me because I haven’t got a national coach breathing down my neck and I feel like if I don’t play well, someone else is going to get in. I’ve not been in for three years now, so all I am trying to do is help Harlequins win. That is my goal.’

That said, it is human nature to wonder about what might have been, or what might still be. Care is the stand-out scrum-half in the country so he still believes he could perform for his country, if he was needed, which is unlikely.

‘There is no lingering animosity towards Eddie Jones but he is well aware he has not been in the England head coach’s thoughts for some time.

‘With the World Cup, he said I hadn’t played well enough to be thought about for selection,’ says Care. ‘Since then, the contact has been minimal but there’s no bad blood. He has gone down a different path. I’ve told him a few times, “I’m still here if you need me”, but he hasn’t needed me yet, so that has been a one-way conversation!

Care’s scintillating form has unsurprisingly seen him linked with a call up to the Lions squad

Warren Gatland (R) recently cast his eye over Quins while Care has not heard from England coach Eddie Jones (L) amid his great run of performances

‘I would like to think if there was a Six Nations coming up next week, maybe my name would be in the mix. But you would have to ask Eddie. All I am concentrating on is Quins. I would love to get top four and the chance to win some silverware because it has been a long time since we have done that.’

The club’s resurgence this season, since the departure of Paul Gustard from the director of rugby role, has been startling. Care has been at the heart of it but he has certainly not been alone. Two Quins rookies have also been at the vanguard of the rise into play-off contention.

One of those is Marcus Smith, the playmaker prodigy who caught the eye of Jones while still at school and is regarded as a certainty for a Test debut sooner rather than later. Care has no hesitation in banging the drum for his half-back partner, saying: ‘He keeps getting better and is so eager to learn. I cannot wait to see him in an England shirt. He is the 10 to take England on.

‘He has already played 100 games for Quins and is only 22. He has grown up massively and is a leader in our group already.

Care is enjoying mentoring younger players and is relaxed about what the future holds for him

‘He was from day one when he shouted at me about a ball not being where he wanted it. I thought, “This kid has got a little bit”.’

The other young Quin pushing hard for an international call-up is No 8 Alex Dombrandt and Care added: ‘If there was a tournament this week, you’d hope he would be heavily in the conversation.

‘He’s another guy like Marcus who’s just getting better and better.

‘He really reminds me of Nick Easter with his skills set and the way he reads the game.

‘He gives an eight or nine-out-of-10 performance every week. He’s brilliant to play with and we link up well. He has sorted me out with a couple of tries and says I owe him a couple back!’

When Worcester visit The Stoop on Saturday night, they will be wary of Smith’s creative class, the rampaging, off-loading threat posed by Dombrandt and also the unburdened ringmaster in between those two young aces.

Carefree Danny’s liberation has ignited Quins and could turn him into a Lion.

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