Danny Care believes he can do no more to convince Eddie Jones that he deserves to be England’s starting scrum-half for the Six Nations and the latest indications suggest he will get his wish against Italy on Sunday.
Care played a leading role in England’s full-blooded training session on Wednesday morning, lining up in what appeared to be England’s strongest backline, with George Ford and Owen Farrell alongside him. Mike Brown and Jack Nowell also took full part and are expected to feature against Italy after both were retained in Jones’s 25-man squad. The Exeter prop Alec Hepburn is poised to make his England debut in Rome.
“Eddie knows I want to start,” Care said. “He says it every time we speak to each other. He just says keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll start some, you’ll finish some. Everyone wants to play as much as they can. I’m happy with my form and I’m enjoying my rugby more than ever.”
Care is England’s incumbent scrum-half, having been handed the No 9 jersey against Samoa in November, but he has started only six of the 23 Tests since Jones took charge, with Ben Youngs largely preferred. His club form for Harlequins is better than that of Leicester’s Youngs and Jones is expected to name his team to face Italy on Friday with the six-day turnaround for Wales’s visit to Twickenham in mind.
If Care plays against Italy, it will represent a marked change from his last trip to Rome. Two years ago he was among England’s replacements and it was the No 10 shirt of the Roma football legend Francesco Totti that occupied his thoughts then.
“There was a race in the changing room and No 10 Totti is the [seat] you want to sit in,” said Care, who was part of Sheffield Wednesday’s academy in his youth. “It’s an amazing stadium, loads of history and obviously being a big football fan it’s a pretty cool place to go and play. It would be cool [to channel my inner Totti on Sunday].”
Hepburn has won his head to head with another uncapped loosehead, Lewis Boyce, who is among the nine players cut from the 34-man extended training squad. Hepburn, 25, went on the Saxons tour of South Africa in 2016 and with only he and Mako Vunipola able to play loosehead, he is in line to feature against Italy.
Of the others omitted Denny Solomona is the biggest surprise – the Sale wing the victim of the powers of recovery shown by Brown and Nowell. Zach Mercer, the only member of the 34-man squad unable to train on Wednesday owing to a viral infection, is also cut, along with the Saracens pair Alex Lozowksi and Nick Isiekwe. The uncapped duo of Gary Graham and Nathan Earle are retained but Jones will have to trim his squad to 23.