In the third installment of his examination of the brightest young talents in English rugby, Rob Douglas turns his entirely impartial attention to his beloved Harlequins. Here he profiles England Saxon back rower Tom Guest, and the newest addition to the England squad, scrum half Danny Care.
Danny Care, Scrum Half
A graduate of the full spectrum of junior representative honours of every age group from U-16 through to U-21, in addition to competing in the England 7s team at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, this young Scrum Half is at the heart of the late season renaissance currently being witnessed at Harlequins.After winning five of their opening seven matches of the season Quins had quietly established a healthy position in the Premiership whilst the World Cup was capturing all of the attention of the rugby world. Danny was very much to the fore at this stage, vying with Steve So’oialo for the No. 9 shirt whilst Andy Gomarsall was away on international duty. A suicide-inducing run of 8 games without a win in all competitions followed towards the end of the year, coincidentally as Danny found himself increasingly sidelined.
However, convincing back to back wins, including the Premiership double against Worcester and then an impressive and very tough away victory at Vicarage Road has swung the momentum of Quins’ season and Care was at the forefront of both these peformances. He is small in stature, standing at 5’9” and only tipping the scales just over 12 stone, but is surprisingly strong on his feet, has a first-class pass (seemingly not so much of a pre-requisite at the highest levels these days) and is never afraid to have a go around the fringes whilst constantly chivvying his forwards. Jon Hobbs was quite right in his review of last week’s Premiership action when commenting that it may not be just his England spot that Gomarsall has let slip.
Richard Wigglesworth had an eye-catching debut last week, but is a long way from the finished article. It is perfectly clear that Gomarsall, Peter Richards and Shaun Perry have all had their time on the international stage. Only time will tell if Harry Ellis returns to competitive rugby after his awful knee injury, compounded by a bout of MRSA in hospital, as the hugely gifted player he undoubtedly was. Paul Hodgson is knocking on the door but the England hierarchy do seem somewhat hesitant to open it. Danny Care is only 21 and has yet to serve his club apprenticeship having joined from Leeds following their relegation, but he is well placed to do so under Gomarsall’s experienced mentoring in the ambitious, developing atmosphere engendered by Deano.
With the Mighty Quins only four points from a top-four playoff spot (and no knockout cup distractions), as if you needed another reason to keep one eye on the Stoop, just bear in mind the name of their ambitious and talented young pretender at Scrum Half.
Tom Guest, Back Row
Originally I had thought to profile Jordan Turner-Hall as the second pick from Harlequins in this feature, as exciting a centre as there is in the Premiership right now for sheer potential. However, I took exception for two main reasons: firstly his age, as having just turned 20 a month ago I am finding it increasingly depressing to glorify the talent of these youthful athletes who were sitting their 11+ and noticing funny black hairs sprouting when I was busy with my A levels. Secondly, an only slightly older back row forward decided to announce himself as a serious prospect, noticeably in a Man of the Match performance for a losing side away at Sale.
Guest has been around for a while having made his Quins debut in the friendly against the Natal Sharks at the Stoop on 10th February 2005. He has been groomed through the Academy, but he has struggled to varying degrees with a number of injuries. Still only 23, he is one of a number of young hopefuls in these competitive positions, such as Jordan Crane and of course, Tom Croft at Leicester, who all seem to possess an unnatural amount of speed on top of all the other essential physical attributes.
Since the glory days of Mick Skinner and Brian Moore, Quins have often suffered from a lack of power up front, and indeed their current front five flirts with the journeymen tag, but the back row is a different proposition. Guest looks set to star, and is just as comfortable on the blindside as at No. 8 so Nick Easter can relax, and they are well balanced by Will Skinner at openside, not forgetting the estimable Chris Robshaw.
Guest was typically assured in his England Saxons debut away in Rome this season, and personally I would be very surprised not to see his explosive brand of dynamism and pace included on the England tour this summer. His ability as an extra lineout option should not be underestimated, and despite the wealth of riches we seem to possess at the moment, he is being widely tipped as a future England No.8. Let’s hope he helps steer Quins into a Heineken Cup spot so he can gain an extra dimension of experience in addition to giving the boys a chance to redeem this year’s woeful showing in the European competition…
Finally, another quick summary of our previously featured players: Ollie Philips continues to turn out solid performances for Newcastle while his mate Ben Woods has been integral to the England Saxons’s success this season; Dylan Hartley has already made a name for himself with an audacious try-scoring assist in the Saxons win over Ireland A and it is impossible to ignore Chris Ashton’s remarkable strike rate for Northampton, now standing at an obscene 33 tries from 23 matches!
by Rob Douglas