Missing out on the World Cup was not a blessing in disguise

CRUSHING as it may have been to miss out on last month’s World Cup through injury, Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care could be forgiven for feeling his international aspirations have been enhanced as a result of the damaged toe which meant he was unable to travel to New Zealand.

In Care’s absence England limped into the knockout stages, where they were overwhelmed by France in the quarter-finals, and were heavily criticised for their conduct off the pitch.

With Ben Youngs, who failed to reproduce the form he had shown in the victorious Six Nations campaign earlier in the year, hampered by an ongoing knee injury and Richard Wigglesworth out of action for the next six months, the opportunity for Care, 24, to regain the England No9 shirt has suddenly presented itself.

Care, who is poised to make his Quins comeback after three months on the sidelines on Saturday, accepts he now has a real opportunity to cement his status as England’s first-choice scrum-half, but dismissed the idea that not being associated with the failure of Martin Johnson’s side represented a blessing in disguise.

“A lot of people have said to me maybe it wasn’t a bad World Cup to miss but I don’t see it that way at all,” he told City A.M.

“I was dying to play. I’d been in the squad for the last three years and then I missed out which was heartbreaking.

“In the warm-up games I was happy with my form and I felt I was first-choice at that point and then got injured at the worst possible time.

“Now Wiggy picked up a really unfortunate injury which is going to keep him out for a while and Youngsy is struggling a bit with his knee so there is a real chance for me. The target has to be getting back in the team ahead of the Six Nations.”

That side could end up bearing little resemblance to the one which took to the field against Les Bleus last month with a number of senior players likely to head for the door marked ‘international retirement’.

Already skipper Lewis Moody has called time on his England career, while manager Johnson is currently considering his own future.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the conduct of the likes of Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi will have further repercussions in terms of future selection.

Care, however, believes the reaction to England’s behaviour off the field was wildly over-hyped. Moreover, he admitted that had he been on tour, he would have had no qualms about joining his team-mates on a boozy night out.

He said: “A lot of what was being written about stuff happening off the pitch was something and nothing really. If the guys had been playing well noting would have been said about their exploits off the pitch.

“Lads are lads at the end of the day and they’re going to want to go out and have a beer. I think I’d definitely have been with the team. If the boys are all going out together I’d have been there and probably would have been criticised.

“Johnno doesn’t tell anyone not to go out. He’s been around international squads before and played in successful teams and I’m sure they had a beer together. I don’t think that was a major problem.”

While England have struggled in Care’s absence, the same can hardly be said of his club side, who will look to stretch their winning run since the start of the Premiership season to eight games when they entertain Bath at the weekend.

Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea has sculpted a young, vibrant side who have built on last season’s landmark Amlin Challenge Cup final win over Stade Francais.

Care, who acknowledged he won’t simply waltz back into the Quins starting line-up, believes that victory over the French giants back in May has provided the squad with the platform to go onto greater things.

He said: “The success we had last season with winning the Amlin Cup has acted as a springboard and given us the determination and drive to go and win something bigger and better. We’re back in the Heineken Cup this year and that’s something we’re really targeting.

“The boys have played so well this year and that’s great for the competition in the squad. Everyone has to fight for their place.

“In my position Karl Dickson has played really well. It’s fantastic for the squad and I know it’s not going to be a case of walking straight back into the team.”