"Probably For the Last Time" - England's Danny Care Feels 'Liberated' As He Prepares For Six Nations Clash Against Scotland - Ruck

“Probably For the Last Time” – England’s Danny Care Feels ‘Liberated’ As He Prepares For Six Nations Clash Against Scotland

England scrum-half Danny Care is closing in on a century of test appearances, as he gets set to make his 99th cap this Saturday against Scotland. The Harlequin is expected to start against Gregor Townsend’s side, following the unfortunate knee injury to England’s regular starting nine Alex Mitchell.

The Northampton Saints man looks to be out on the side-lines for the remainder of the Six Nations, with Care and Bath’s Ben Spencer reinforcing the halfback ranks. Care is an anomaly of the test match scene, as despite approaching what would traditionally be called ‘retirement age’ in professional sport, the 37-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down.

Danny Care of England arriving before the six Nations Championship match, between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, London , UK, on the 17th March 2017. (Photo:Dean Lancaster/PPAUK)

In fact, the Harlequin is playing some his career best rugby, and is enjoying arguably his most consistent run in an England squad, since his international debut back in 2008. The secret to Care’s ‘Benjamin Button’ like form can’t be found in a hyperbaric chamber, and the scrum-half also dismissed the intense diet plans he’s come across throughout his career. Instead, Care’s ‘fountain of youth’ finds it source in his enjoyment of the sport, as the 98-capped England international feels ‘liberated’ in his extended run on the test match stage.

“Exactly. I feel more liberated, I feel more free, I feel like I can just enjoy it. But at the same time knowing just how important my role is in this team. I feel really trusted in this team, I feel a big part of this team which I think Steve has made everyone feel. This weekend there’s a big role on a few of our shoulders of boys who have been up there before and played there to try and just let these guys go and enjoy it.”

Danny Care of England with Gareth Davies of Wales during the Summer Nations Series Rugby match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium on August 5, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“But for me personally, you never know which one is going to be the last one, so in a way that gives me a freedom to just be myself and really enjoy it. I think that’s something that is hard when you play for England because you’re constantly on the edge of being judged and wanted to do well and stay in the team, and there are so many other lads who people think should be playing instead of you.

“I don’t care about any of that any more, which is nice. I can see why some of the other lads won’t feel like that, but we’re trying to get them to feel a little bit like that because we want them to be free, to be themselves and be how they’ve been so far in the Premiership and full of confidence. If you can harness that then there’s a big performance coming from this team.”

With his content mental approach to every England appearence, Care is able to put more time and energy into his physical recovery. The experienced international admitted that this is made easier in the five star facilities located at England’s training camp, and he is relishing in the opportunity to make his 99th and 100th test caps in the remainder of the 2024 Six Nations.

“I can’t wait. I never gave up on playing for England, for the opportunities to play in games like this again. It doesn’t get much bigger than the Calcutta Cup up in Murrayfield, whether it is your first time out there or, for me, your 99th time playing for England. I just can’t wait to get up there and experience that and try and get a win.”

Danny Care of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

“It’s one of those that I obviously never thought… I always thought I’d love to do it (100 caps). And then I thought ‘that’s done now that ain’t gonna happen’. Then now you’re like, ‘Oh, the nervous nineties’ as someone was telling me the other day.

“Obviously, to play for England once is the biggest honour, if I could do it 100 times it would be incredible. But myself and Coley (Dan Cole) remind ourselves every day, not just a game by game, but day by day, and we need to take this and just try and enjoy it. If I’m looking too far ahead. 

“I’m going to give the team what it needs on Saturday. So my whole goal this weekend is to do my best for the team and try and get us a win. And if I get to do it again, in a couple of weeks time, then amazing.”

Jonny May of England goes over for a try and celebrates the try during the Summer International match between England and Fiji at Twickenham Stadium on August 26, 2023 in London, England. ( Photo by Phil Mingo/PPAUK )

Care joked as to how he is a polar opposite to his former England teammate Jonny May’s approach to recovery. Whilst the Gloucester wing utilises the oxygen chambers and an intense focus upon muscle recovery and a strict diet plan, Care prefers to unwind in his own unique and far tastier style.

“I’m definitely not like Jonny May. I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum to Jonny May, more cookies! I’ve definitely put a bigger emphasis on my recovery in the last few years but I feel better now than I did four or five years ago. The mental side of things has definitely helped with that. I know more body more, I know what I need to do to be ready to peak on Saturday. The coaches and Steve say we’re going to be ready on Saturday. Training’s tough, it always is, but we’re going to be ready to have our biggest spike of intensity on Saturday at 4:45pm.”

Danny Care of England during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“So obviously we’re in this amazing five-star spa which helps. The sauna and the ice bath are our best friends. It’d amazing when you’ve got that on your doorstep and I’ve got time to do it. When I’m at home I can just nip out for a couple of hours to ‘recover’, my wife would… well, she wouldn’t be my wife any more! But when you’re here and you’ve got the best S&C guys, nutritionists, everyone and it’s all for you, you can be selfish in that way, I think that helps me a lot.”

“Cookies and saunas, yeah, why not. If it works. The thing is, everyone is so different. What works for me doesn’t work for Dan Cole or Joe Marler. You’ve got to fund what works for you. I’ve always said I play a different sport to those boys, what they do is ridiculous and I don’t know how they recover from what they do but for Dan to still be going, what he’s put his body through, to still be doing that week in, week out, is incredible. 

Dan Cole of Leicester Tigers looks on prior to the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Leicester Tigers and Newcastle Falcons at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on 3 December 2023. Photo: Patrick Khachfe/PPAUK

“You’ve got to listen to your body. But the on-field stuff, I can’t help but run around as fast as I can for as long as I can. I love it. And I know I need to do that to feel zippy and energetic for the weekend and do what I need to do. So obviously getting the balance right, but you know, there’s a ball out there, I’m chasing it. 

“I’ve always been quite lucky in that I’ve not been massively into nutrition and believe fully in it, which the nutritionists hate me for. I don’t think I’ve cracked it but I’m 37 and I like to think I’ve shown an alternative way of doing it. Rather than all the protein and the supplements every day.”

After pressing on through the first Six Nations fallow week, Care is eagerly anticipating the chance to run out against Scotland this weekend. The stage is set for an almighty clash at Murrayfield, between two sets of players with an undeniable rivalry. The Anglo-Scottish tensions infamously boiled over in 2018, during the ‘Tunnel-gate’ incident.

This confrontation saw former Scotland international Ryan Wilson provoke George Ford, before Owen Farrell’s intervention caused the tunnel to erupt. Care remembered the incident, yet recalled how his disallowed try in the same match was a far more poignant memory for the scrum half.

“I think I was a bit further on. I heard about it, it was English on English wasn’t it because he (Ryan Wilson) is as English as they come – that’ll be the headline won’t it! It was one of those. I still think that day if Nigel Owens had let me intercept that try, we win the game. I blame Joe Launchbury for that because apparently he was messing about in a ruck which denied me of that. It is a passionate fiery game but they are the sort of games you want to play in.”

‘Passionate’ and ‘fiery’; such is the atmosphere of the Calcutta Cup matches, with Care once again expecting a heated reception when his side arrives in the Scottish capital. The Harlequin expressed how the fabled ‘cauldron’ is one of his favourite venues to play in, with the tensions high the second he steps foot off the bus outside Murrayfield.

“It is just a brilliant place to play. When you watch the Six Nations as a kid, you see games like this and you want to play in them and when you play in them you realise just how special they are. It is never easy up there, they make everything difficult from the bus ride in, with the bagpipes to slow you down to make you walk a bit further, but I love it.

“I love stepping off the bus there and hearing the passion their supporters have and what it means to them. I am dying to get up there and experience that, probably for the last time, I think I am right in saying. I am going to embrace it and try and enjoy it.”

“It is loud and it is like that because they (Scotland fans) care so much. They want it and they are dying for their team to win, and we are dying for our team to go up there and win. My advice to any of the young lads is to just enjoy it, embrace it, you never know when you won’t get to play in these games anymore so for me, at the later end of spectrum of a rugby career, I think I have played my best rugby the last few years because I have just tried to enjoy it and embrace it in that mindset.”

Scotland have gotten the better of their British Isle rivals throughout the past few years, with three consecutive wins keeping the Calcutta Cup firmly in Edinburgh. Scotland have only won four on the bounce against England once before, and could equalise their previous efforts of the 1890s this Saturday. Speaking on Scotland’s recent successes, Care discussed Gregor Townsend’s variety of weapons, including a ‘magician’ of a fly half.

Finn Russell, Captain of Scotland Rugby during the Six Nations Rugby match between Wales and Scotland at Principality Stadium on February 3, 2024 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“There is no hiding away from the fact they have been better than us the last few times we have played them and they have deserved those wins. They are a brilliant team, a team that is very hard to beat, a team that probably should be sat there two from two, I am sure they think they should be and they have got a magician at fly-half, some world class players that can finish and some big old boys that can punish you.

“So, we are incredibly respectful of them as a team, we admire them as a team and we are really looking forward to the challenge and going up against them. This team and taking the next step is going to places like Scotland and getting a win because it means a little bit more because of how hard it is to do that.”

“You go through his clips and you see some of his magic. He is a brilliant player, one of the best in the world, he tries things other people don’t dare to try and if he gets things wrong he doesn’t go into his shell, he will keep coming. We have seen that in games the last few years when he has been instrumental in beating England.

“We know how good he is, he is their lynch pin, he is their talisman and we have got to pitch up and defend against him. In times in the past we have been great for 75  minutes, then off for five and Van der Merwe goes and scores a try or Finn does something magical. It is going to take an 85 minute performance to win this game and he is one of the major threats we have got to respect but try and nullify.”

“You never know what is going on and he never dies with the ball in contact either. If he’s taking the ball in, somehow the ball is coming back to someone. So the big thing we’ve talked about is everyone being alive the whole time because you could be the 10th man in the defensive line ,and thinking you’re alright for a phase and have a blow, and then the ball is coming to you.

“He’s a brilliant player, he can do things other people can. It’s up to us to put some pressure on and try to not let him have it all his own way.”

There are plenty of experienced older-heads in the England squad, as the likes of Care, Joe Marler, Dan Cole and Jamie George have been battle-tested at Murrayfield throughout the years. However, England head coach Steve Borthwick has introduced his new generation to the fold for the 2024 Six Nations, with Care excited to see how the young guns fare in their first trip to the tartan-coated amphitheatre.

“We have got some lads with such youthful exuberance we just want to go and play and enjoy themselves. I think that is the atmosphere Steve is trying to get here, just go out there and enjoy it, not be daunted, embrace and we will go up there and give it our all to get the win.”

“Someone like Manny (Feyi) Waboso are just a breath of fresh air to see him and how happy he is every day, he wants the ball, wants to learn, wants to do his thing. Some of the Saints lads, Tommy Freeman and Mitch (Alex Mitchell), I am gutted for Mitch he has picked up an injury because I was so proud of how he was playing, he has taken that nine shirt and made it his own.

“These boys are just desperate to get out there and play. Ethan Roots is another one who just wants to run through people and tackle people and Chandler Cunningham-South, who I know pretty well from Harlequins and he does exactly the same. I think Steve is trying to embrace that and say to these boys bring your point of difference here.

“Hopefully in this team I think Steve is just trying to embrace that and say to these boys, ‘bring your point of difference. It’s what got you here, just keep doing that and enjoy doing it’. And hopefully with the talent in the room, we’ll be alright.”

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

Pivoting his focus on the scrum half pecking order, Care gave his view on Ben Spencer’s impressive run of form at Bath. Spencer has been shining in blue, black and white this season, and rightfully earned himself the call-up following Mitchell’s untimely withdraw.

“I think he’s a brilliant player, always been a massive fan of him. Playing against him, it’s always a tough game. One of the best if not the best box kicker of a ball I think I’ve seen. Think his old mentor Wiggy would have a bit of a go about about that. 

“But no, Spenner has been brilliant. We were saying the other day we’ve never worked together in an England squad ,we have always kind of been in and out. But I really enjoy working with him. He’s been brilliant this year for Bath and I think if he gets opportunities he’s more than capable of performing at a world class level.”

Ben Spencer, Captain of Bath Rugby watches the scrum during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Bath Rugby and Bristol Bears at the Recreation Ground on 17 November 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Closing out the media session, Care looked to his future following the Six Nations and explained his uncertainty on what laid beyond. The 37-year-old expects Saturday’s trip to Murrayfield to be his last, with the sands of time slipping for the foreseeable future in an England jersey. Care gave his most recent thoughts on his near future, and expressed his gratitude to Borthwick for this revived run in the team.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t I don’t really know. The next few weeks, I think maybe (then) I’ll  know what I’m doing longer term. Yeah, it’s as I said, I don’t know what’s happening for me after this Six Nations or after this year. So, I genuinely just loving every minute of being back in this team.

I realize how special it is to wear the shirt. I said it a lot in the World Cup, but it wasn’t just because I wanted to get picked again in Six Nations. But I generally believe, I believe in Steve, I think he’s the most open and honest, hardworking coach that I’ve probably ever played under.

“That’s all you want as a player you want to someone to be honest with you, and someone to trust you and he showed a lot of faith in me, so I feel like I owe him some good performances, and if I get the chance on Saturday, then I’ll try and do that for him.”