FORGIVING England coach Stuart Lancaster is ready to give repentant Danny Care another chance to rescue his threatened international career.
The Leeds-born scrum-half has been banished from the Red Rose squad since January following two alcohol-related incidents but is primed to return for the summer tour of South Africa.
Lancaster confirmed yesterday the former Leeds Tykes star is in his plans after proving he is “maturing” following further unsavoury skirmishes.
Since his initial suspension, Harlequins player Care has also been arrested in his home city for being drunk and disorderly and arrested over an alleged sexual assault which he vehemently denies and is still being investigated.
However, Lancaster, who worked closely with the player as a youngster at Headingley, believes he has started fulfilling his promises to alter his off-field ways and show the requisite commitment and professionalism needed to perform at the highest level.
Care’s on-field form in the interim has been nothing short of stunning but it is the strides he is making away from rugby which have led the England chief to believe he is in the right place mentally to kick-start his Test career.
Omitted for the entire Six Nations, having already missed last autumn’s doomed World Cup with a broken toe, the 25-year-old has not represented his country since winning the last of his 32 caps against Wales in August.
But Lancaster – who makes his final 42-man selection next Tuesday – said: “I spoke to Danny during the Six Nations and gave him a date when we were due to meet.
“That was about three weeks ago. I wanted him to demonstrate to me what he’s doing off the field – in terms of leading himself – which would show he’s maturing.
“If he can’t lead himself off the field there’s no way he can come on to it, be an international player and lead anyone else.
“I know Danny pretty well and, what he came up with, for the first time, was a pretty comprehensive personal development plan where he felt he was going to take himself.
“It’s easy to write that down on a piece of paper.
“But I have done my homework to find out what he is doing, how he’s doing it, how he’s performing at the club, his behaviour, attitudes and the work he’s doing in between rugby coaching sessions.
“The feedback’s been universally positive so, for me, if he continues to convince me, then he’s going to be in the equation.”
Lancaster does not believe Care is a natural troublemaker or has a major alcohol problem – “fundamentally he’s a good person” – and backs his own judgment when it comes to a player who undoubtedly offers plenty of verve and pace from the No 9 position.
When asked if Care’s indiscretions have been exaggerated, he replied: “I don’t think what’s gone on has been exaggerated – it’s pretty serious if I’m honest – but, equally, I think everyone deserves a second opportunity.
“He’s lost his way a bit but I think he’s gone back on the right track.
“I don’t think he put as much effort as he should have done between training in developing himself as a person.
“But clearly now he has. He’s got lot of extra things going on in his life which are positive and he regrets hugely what’s happened over the last six months.
“He knows he has to build trust with me in order to be selected but equally that trust can be very quickly eroded again in one incident.
“He knows there’s a very fine line he needs to tread but I think that the penny has dropped with Danny and we’ve got to give him another chance at some point.”
Lancaster, in his first squad announcement since being confirmed as England’s head coach following his interim appointment through the Six Nations, is set to name plenty of the players who helped him impress so much during that tournament.
The names on his list will be made public next Thursday but yesterday he confirmed who will not be considered due to injury, including former Leeds hooker Rob Webber, Northampton lock Courtney Lawes, British Lion Tom Croft, Charlie Sharples and Joe Simpson while another former Leeds player – Callum Clark – is suspended.
Given the lack of blindside flankers around, Lancaster is set to recall James Haskell, the former Wasps star serving a three-week ban with New Zealand Super 15 club the Highlanders.
International Young Player of the Year George Ford, the Leicester fly-half who spent time on loan at Leeds last year, was tipped to tour but Lancaster says he will stay behind as he needs a pre-season to get “physically robust” for the challenges that await him.