‘Cookies and a sauna’: Danny Care hungry for 99th cap and Scotland

<span>Danny Care, pictured after scoring a try against Samoa in the 2023 World Cup, is relishing his new elder statesman role with England. </span><span>Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images</span>
Danny Care, pictured after scoring a try against Samoa in the 2023 World Cup, is relishing his new elder statesman role with England. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Few players have heard more Calcutta Cup bagpipes over the years than Danny Care. His first Six Nations encounter with Scotland was in 2009 and the meeting on Saturday will be his 99th Test appearance for England. If any of the scrum‑half’s younger colleagues want first‑hand advice about Murrayfield and how to survive it, they need look no further.

It is among the reasons why the 37‑year‑old is still in the national squad; Steve Borthwick wanted a few seasoned individuals to set the tone for future generations. The boy Danny is now an elder statesman picked for his experience of high-pressure environments, particularly after Ben Youngs’s Test retirement and the untimely knee injury sustained last week by Northampton’s Alex Mitchell.

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None of that counts for much, however, if a player loses motivation or his mojo or whatever else keeps him hungry for more. In Care’s case the package is a bespoke one: he credits his continuing longevity to “cookies and saunas” and concedes England’s nutritionists have not always been his closest allies. “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.

“Cookies and saunas … why not, if it works. 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 supplements every day. The thing is, everyone is different. What works for me doesn’t work for Dan Cole or Joe Marler. I’ve always said I play a different sport to those boys; what they do is ridiculous. You’ve got to find what works for you.”

As a schoolboy footballer who played in the same junior Sheffield Wednesday team as Jamie Vardy, Care has always had natural athleticism but, not unlike a champion jockey, is now first in the sauna whenever England are based at their five-star Bagshot hotel.

“The sauna and the ice bath are our best friends. It’s amazing when you’ve got that on your doorstep and have time to do it.

“When I’m at home I can’t 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, you can be selfish in that way. I’ve definitely put a bigger emphasis on my recovery in the last few years. I feel better now than I did four or five years ago.”

Mentally he also now understands “what I need to do to be ready to peak on Saturday” but, equally, he would not be human if his mind did not stray towards the possibility of a 100th cap next month, apparently a forlorn prospect when he was abruptly jettisoned by Eddie Jones in November 2018. “I always thought I’d love to do it. Then I thought: ‘That’s done now, that ain’t gonna happen.’

“Now you’re like: ‘Oh, the nervous nineties.’ To play for England once is the biggest honour; if I could do it 100 times it would be incredible. But if I’m looking too far ahead, I’m not going to give the team what it needs on Saturday.” Sure, but what are his plans beyond this season? “I’ll be honest, I don’t really know. In the next few weeks I think I’ll maybe know what I’m doing longer term.”

Whenever the final curtain does fall, the long-serving Harlequin will want to go out on a high. England have beaten Scotland just once in their past six attempts and will need to raise their game to do so. Bath’s Ollie Lawrence is poised to return at 12 ahead of Fraser Dingwall with George Martin and, possibly, Manu Tuilagi also pressing for inclusion in the matchday 23. In Mitchell’s absence, Care will also have an influential role to play in a significant fixture for both teams.

So what will he be telling the Murrayfield newbies? “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. When you do, you realise just how special they are.

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“It is never easy up there. I love stepping off the bus and hearing the passion their supporters have. It is loud because they care so much. They are dying for their team to win, and we are dying for our team to go up there and win.

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

“My advice to our young lads? Just enjoy it and embrace it. You never know when you won’t get to play in these games any more.”