A DEFINING factor in what is already shaping up to be an intriguing Six Nations championship could be squad strength – who has it, who does not.
A strong spine of the team and a capable starting XV may not prove enough for a side with designs on a grand slam or finishing top of the table come the middle of March.
What reinforcements a team can call upon from the bench to add a little zip and urgency into the dying embers of a game could prove crucial in the destiny of the title.
And in this area, England appear as strong as anyone.
The eight men who sat on the bench for last Saturday’s Calcutta Cup had a combined 230 caps between them compared to the 191 that the men numbered one to 15 shared.
Among dependable internationals making cameos from the bench in the 38-18 win over Scotland – players like Dylan Hartley and Toby Flood – was Leeds-born scrum-half Danny Care, who himself is no slouch when it comes to experience.
Of his 38 England caps, 20 have come from the bench, but few were as eye-catching as the one he made at Twickenham, as he not only conceded possession that ultimately led to a Scotland try, but later atoned by crossing the whitewash himself.
It was the sort of scene-stealer that gets people sitting up and taking notice, with head coach Stuart Lancaster the man he hopes to have impressed most.
Lancaster’s biggest headache in the lead up to Sunday’s game against Ireland may be how best to wedge the returning Manu Tuilagi back into the centre pairing of Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt.
But who he names as scrum-half from Care and current No 9 incumbent Ben Youngs will be equally high on the head coach’s list of big decisions.
“We’ve got strength in depth all over the park these days, you’d struggle to find a position where we haven’t got two or three players that can come in and play,” said Care, 26.
“You’ve got the likes of Toby Flood, James Haskell, David Strettle, Courtney Lawes, these types of players all coming off the bench, all wanting to make an impact. We’re all pushing each other hard for places.
“We all want to start, but if you’re not in the starting XV you’ve got to live with it.”
Lancaster has made it public that his players will all play a significant part in this year’s championship, with the former Leeds coach’s ethos being built around ia squad game, rather than a team game. To that end, Care is confident his time will come.
“Obviously I was disappointed not to be starting against Scotland but Stuart assured me that I will be playing a part in this tournament and everyone will get a chance,” said Care.
“All I can do is play well when I come on, impress in training and see what happens.
“When you come off the bench you try and blend in. On Saturday I came on at a time when the game was opening up and you can get a bit excited at times when you see a bit of a gap.
“I saw a gap at one point, went for it and we got turned over, Scotland went the length of the field and scored, so that was disappointing.
“But I managed to get a few runs and breaks out there and I’m glad I got the try at the end, it kind of made up for my error in giving them a try.
“It’s great to score at Twickenham, you don’t get many in an England shirt. I think that’s five for me now.
“I’ll cherish that one at Twickers in the 80th minute, although it was perhaps not from the furthest distance out, but you’ll take it.
“It’s great to come on when the team is playing well, with the tempo high. Both teams were playing well to be fair, both throwing it around a bit.
“That’s the kind of game I like to be involved in and I really enjoyed it.”
However, concerning his role at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, Care knows playing Ireland will be a big test of this emerging England side.
They have not won in the Six Nations in Dublin since their grand-slam year of 2003, with Care having been a member of the last two vanquished Red Rose teams in the Six Nations.
His first venture to Lansdowne Road in 2009 saw him sin-binned for a moment of recklessness when the game was in the balance.
As a considerably more mature proposition under Lancaster’s disciplined guidance, Care knows England have their work cut out.
“Anything like that will land you in trouble so I won’t be making the same mistake again,” added Care. “Going away to Ireland is one of the biggest games you can have in an England shirt.
“It’s a very tough place to play and they were pretty impressive against Wales, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”