No nonsense, no choice

World Cup misdemeanours left new England coach Lancaster little option but to throw the book at Care

WHEN Stuart Lancaster was handed control of a senior England set-up reeling from the fall-out of a disastrous World Cup he promised to stamp out a culture of laddishness and indiscipline that undermined and ultimately overshadowed that doomed campaign.

Having made that pledge, Lancaster (inset) had little choice but to put his money where his mouth was and issue an exemplary punishment after Danny Care, one of his senior players, was arrested for drink-driving in the early hours of New Year’s Day.

Yet there is another, more pressing factor, that left Lancaster and the Rugby Football Union’s new leadership with little option but to exclude the country’s in-form scrum-half from the looming challenge of defending the Six Nations title.

The ill-fated World Cup expedition saw the England team become synonymous with off-field disgrace, dramatically eroding the perception that the game is one fundamentally populated by gentlemen and not the yobbish nouveau-riche associated with their footballing counterparts.

Vice-captain Mike Tindall’s well-publicised antics in a Queenstown bar should have acted as a stark warning, but further bad publicity implicating younger stars such as Chris Ashton, James Haskell and Manu Tuilagi only dragged the players’ reputations further south.

It meant the team returned from the tournament in November not only shamed by their display – a quarter-final exit equalled their worst ever performance – but also by coverage that damaged their public perception perhaps irrevocably.

And it was not only the media pouring opprobrium on England’s boisterous tourists; the players themselves made it clear on their return that the attitudes and behaviour of even senior members of the squad had depleted morale at the most important time.

The RFU’s own investigation found manager Martin Johnson culpable for the mess they now found themselves in, while a survey of players, leaked to the press, revealed disharmony on an unimagined scale over what was considered appropriate demeanour.

Against that backdrop, Lancaster had little choice but to make an example of Care and lay down a marker for his tenure – however brief it turns out to be – that bad behaviour off the field will not be allowed to further sully the England set-up.

He would have been torn, as well, having known Care better than most; Lancaster coached him at Yorkshire under-16s and then signed him to the Leeds academy soon afterwards.

Yet for the sake of the squad’s ongoing credibility, and to give his own an early shot in the arm – while few believe Lancaster will get the role on a permanent basis, it is by no means an impossibility – he was left with no choice.

‘If the boys were all going out I’d have been there’

DANNY CARE admitted to City A.M. just days after the World Cup that he would probably have been caught up in the England’s squad’s much-criticised off-field antics had he been at the tournament.

The Harlequins No9 missed out on the squad through injury but defended the behaviour of his erstwhile team-mates, who were castigated for embarking on a nightclub expedition after their opening victory.

“Lads are lads at the end of the day and they’re going to want to go out and have a beer,” Care told City A.M in November (above). “I think I’d definitely have been with the team. If the boys were all going out together I’d have been there and probably would have been criticised.”

Care, who has been dropped for the Six Nations for drink driving, his second alcohol-related offence in the space of a few weeks, felt the World Cup criticism was exaggerated.

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

Care was ruled out of the World Cup on the eve of the tournament with a toe injury but has been an integral part of Harlequins’ superb start to the season and was certain to be a part of the Six Nations squad.