DANNY Care claims England thrive on being cast as hate figures in their bristling rivalry with Scotland.
England and Scotland will renew the oldest rivalry in international rugby at Twickenham a week today in the opening round of the 2013 RBS 6 Nations championship. “They don’t really like us very much, which we enjoy. We relish that challenge,” scrum half Care said today, after England had finished training in front of 6,000 supporters in snowy Leeds.
Twelve months ago, England launched their new era under Stuart Lancaster, who had just been appointed as interim coach, with a battling victory over Scotland at Murrayfield.
This year, the roles are reversed. Scott Johnson is in caretaker charge of Scotland and they will head south with a new team and a point to prove after losing to Tonga in the autumn. While there is an unknown quality about Johnson’s Scotland, Care is fully aware that one thing never changes when it comes to Calcutta Cup showdowns.
“It is going to be a massive battle,” Care said. “We look on them as a new team. We don’t know what they are going to throw at us, but we know it will be a very passionate game. They will come with some physicality and some big forwards and we will have to front up.”
While Scotland’s defeat by Tonga cost Andy Robinson his job, England head into the game on the back of a record 38-21 triumph over world champions New Zealand. The two situations could not be more contrasting. Care vowed England would not be resting on the laurels of that All Blacks destruction.
“The New Zealand game was a massive win for us, but it is only one game,” he said. “We have to play very well next week against Scotland because they want to come and spoil the party. I would love a 30 or 40-point victory, but we have to be realistic.
“Against New Zealand we played very well and caught them on an off day. We deserved that win, we did play really well. Playing Scotland in the Six Nations is going to be completely different.”
Care has been on a tour of his old haunts this week, with England basing themselves in Leeds. The squad have trained at West Park Leeds, Care’s junior club, and yesterday at Headingley. The 26-year-old was not involved this time last year, having been axed from the squad for disciplinary reasons, but he is now locked in a fierce battle with Ben Youngs for the starting number nine jersey against Scotland.
That competition is replicated in other positions – between Tom Youngs and Dylan Hartley at hooker, Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler on the loosehead, Alex Goode and Ben Foden at full-back. “On the first day back in camp you could see the excitement of every player who is vying to get the shirt,” Care said. “No-one is nailed on for a start. It is great for English rugby that there is so much strength in depth. It is a good battle at nine. I am happy with how I have played but there is no indication yet of who will play. It keeps everyone on their toes.”
While Lancaster will relish those positive selection choices, the issue of Manu Tuilagi’s ankle injury continues to cause him some concern. Tuilagi, who has gone back to Leicester to work on the club’s anti-gravity treadmill, was instrumental in England’s victory over the All Blacks, scoring one try and playing a key creative role in two others.
But Lancaster insisted Tuilagi would not be treated differently to any other member of the squad. If he is not ready by Tuesday at the latest, then he will not play against Scotland.