CAN someone be named man of the match after playing just eight minutes?
It is a rhetorical question in terms of this bizarre England win as Joe Launchbury, their tireless, workaholic lock, had already rightly been awarded the accolade midway through Danny Care’s brilliant cameo.
However, the remarkable impact of Care, the scrum-half who only entered the fray against Australia in the 72nd minute on Saturday, certainly deserves closer inspection.
England, entwined in a pulsating Test match, were narrowly 13-6 ahead when the former Leeds Tykes No 9 arrived on the scene and, the aggrieved Wallabies will argue, that was only down to some marginal calls going in the hosts’ favour.
However, within moments, the Yorkshireman showed great vision to set up Jonathan Joseph’s try with a lovely chip kick, then created another for Jonny May with a perfectly-executed grubber before rounding things off with a try of his own as the Red Rose suddenly bloomed.
Many of Care’s 75 caps have now come as a “finisher”, the term head coach Eddie Jones uses for his replacements, but rarely has he helped finish a game so emphatically.
As a finisher, when you’re on the bench it’s about increasing the tempo and the energy of the team when you get on and trying to put in a good performance as the boys were brilliant from minute one.Danny Care
Asked if he has ever had such a prolific eight-minute spell as he did at a rain-lashed Twickenham – two assists and one try – the Harlequins star conceded: “No, I don’t think so.
“It’s nice when it comes off. Most of the time it doesn’t so it was nice to help the team get the win that I thought we deserved.
“It was a really tight game through the first 65-70 minutes. That decision to not award them the try went in our favour, and we really didn’t look back from that.
“We got three to finish off and that was really nice; the scoreline probably flattered us a bit and didn’t really show a true picture of the game. Australia are a tough team to play against. They always are, and you’ve got to play very well to beat them.
“But it’s a massive squad effort. Eddie talks about that all the time – not just the 23 that got to put on the shirt (on Saturday), but 33.
“There’s the lads that have put in the graft and are sent back to the clubs to play, so we owe them a performance.
“And, as a finisher, when you’re on the bench it’s about increasing the tempo and the energy of the team when you get on and trying to put in a good performance as the boys were brilliant from minute one.
“They put in a hell of a shift and it’s nice when you come on and add something to that. It’s great to get the win.”
The disallowed ‘try’ Care referred to was Marika Koroibete’s effort in the 69th minute after TMO Simon McDowell spotted the slightest of obstructions from team-mate Stephen Moore.
It was critical as, soon after, Care made his first imprint and the hosts went on to secure a fifth successive Cook Cup victory.
But Australia – unbeaten in their previous seven games before this defeat – had seen captain Michael Hooper have an effort ruled out in the first half, too, that was debatable while he and Kurtley Beale were also both yellow-carded before the interval and the Wallabies, at one point, were down to 13 men.
In essence, it was the most unlikely 30-6 win you are likely to see, but Jones and his squad will care not one jot this morning.
Care’s footballing skills – he famously played for Sheffield Wednesday’s academy before turning professional at Headingley – came to the fore at the end.
“Obviously you always look for a bit of space in the back field and on a day like that with the weather there’s nothing worse than the ball going over your head,” he explained.
“I think with the first one all of us saw the space and an opportunity and JJ obviously is a quick boy. He got there before anyone else and managed to slide over from about 10m, which is brilliant.
“And then just the way the Aussies set up on the last scrum we thought there might be an opportunity to thread it in and with the wheels Jonny has got he’s going to beat people in a foot race,” continued Care.
“It’s nice when they come off, like that, two tries from those.”
There was just time to cross himself for his 13th Test try after backing up the escaping May, prompting jubilant celebrations.
“You have got to enjoy it,” added Care.
“As a 30-year-old you don’t know how many tries you have left in you so it was great to get over and it was in the corner where my wife and my son were watching the game. It was a nice moment.”
Asked if his son Blake has a ‘Care 9’ jersey, he said: “I think it’s Care 21 he needs at the moment.
“He has got a ‘Care 9’ jersey, but I’m not sure what he was wearing (Saturday). It will be nice to see him in a bit.”
Owen Farrell, back after being rested for the listless win over Argentina, contributed 10 points with his boot while Australia, for all their threat via the likes of Kuridrani, Kerevi and Koroibete, were limited to a penalty each from Bernard Foley and Reece Hodge.
It is Samoa next up for England on Saturday and Care, no doubt, will be primed to finish again.
England: Watson; May, Joseph, Farrell, Daly; Ford (Slade 70), Youngs (Care 70); M Vunipola (Marler 64), Hartley (George 57), Cole (Williams 67), Launchbury, Lawes, Robshaw, Underhill (Itoje 17), Hughes (Simmonds 63).
Australia: Beale; Koroibete, Kuridrani, Kerevi (Hunt 67), Hodge; Foley, Genia (Phipps 71); Sio, Polota-Nau (Moore 64), Kepu (Alaalatoa 67), Simmons, Enever (Philip 62), Hanigan (McCalman 40), Hooper, McMahon.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (NZRU).