Danny Care returns to Twickenham with his love for the game rekindled by a title-winning season and the determination to help Harlequins’ young guns fulfil their potential.
A year ago Care’s interest in rugby was waning as Quins toiled in front of empty stands, the absence of fans deflating a high-energy player whose England career had ended two years earlier.
But the departure of Paul Gustard dramatically transformed fortunes on the pitch to the extent that a team positioned seventh in the Gallagher Premiership stormed to their first domestic crown since 2012.
As the end of lockdown brought supporters back to grounds, albeit in limited numbers, the joy returned to the heartbeat of Quins’ resurgence.
Now 34 and in the final year of his contract, England’s second most capped scrum-half is determined to revel in the occasion of Monday’s annual ‘Big Game’ when Northampton visit Twickenham.
“I honestly feel great. I definitely feel better than I did when I was 26 or 27,” Care told the PA news agency.
“When you go away from international rugby you miss it so much, but at the same time you’re not being pulled from pillar to post and you’re not away all the time.
“We’ve got a good thing going with my training schedule. I don’t have to do any crazy stuff, just things that make me feel good for the weekend.
It's CHRIIIIISTMAAAAS… week 🎁
A Boxing Day bonanza with some corking Christmas crackers incoming 🤩
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) December 20, 2021
“My contract is up this year and we’ll see what happens there. As long as I still feel I can do it and help the team, then I’ll keep going. I’m enjoying rugby and as soon as that stops I’ll know it’s time to do something else.
“The last year to 18 months have massively reinvigorated me. When we were playing with no fans, I could have called it a day then. I couldn’t get any enjoyment out of it at all. But seeing fans cheering…
“I don’t get the opportunity to play in front of 80,000 any more because I don’t play for England. Watching England play in the autumn was amazing, but it also made me realise how much I miss the buzz of a full Twickenham.
“I’m dying to get back out there on that stage for the Big Game. I have a genuine love for rugby again.
🎩 Big Game 11 was some show.
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) December 21, 2021
“Whenever it feels like a job, I’m probably not doing the right thing any more, but it’s still enjoyable and I like trying to help the young lads, guiding them when I can.
“I was passionate to help these guys lift the trophy before I left. We’ve done it once but I’d love to see us do it again.”
Harlequins are among a pack of clubs jostling for one of the three play-offs spots available with Leicester’s position as runaway leaders placing them in prime contention for a semi-final.
The champions come into their own in dryer conditions when their instinctive, attacking mindset can cause greatest damage, but in the meantime they are having to fend off claims they are vulnerable.
“We’ve heard a few comments that we’ve been worked out and we can’t play in the wet. We can be quite unpredictable, so what are you working out? What is it we’re doing because we don’t know half the time!” Care said.
“I don’t think we’ve been worked out, it’s just that other teams have got better and we haven’t played as well as we can do. Hopefully when we do, teams won’t be able to work that out.
“We back ourselves to get through these winter months and if we were able to front up physically at Leicester earlier in the month, we should be able to do it anywhere.”
Tickets for the Big Game at Twickenham Stadium on Monday, December 27, when Harlequins Men and Harlequins Women play Northampton and Wasps Women available here https://www.eticketing.co.uk/harlequins/Events?preFilter=11