“I genuinely had a moment the first game the fans were back. My eyes started watering. Proper tears" (Image: Getty Images for Harlequins)
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Danny Care admits he was “fully done” after a year spent playing rugby in empty stadiums.
The England scrum-half has the spring back in his step ahead of Harlequins’ Premiership semi-final at Bristol on Saturday.
He is buzzing from delivering on a promise to son, Blake, to score last weekend when his young family were finally able to watch him live again.
And he is determined that having won 10 of their last 14 league games since changing head coach in January, the ride takes Quins all the way to a Twickenham final.
It would be payback for keeping going through the silence of a year in which he found playing behind closed doors such a joyless experience.
“I genuinely had a moment the first game the fans were back at the Stoop,” he said. “The roar as we ran out, looking around and seeing my family. My eyes started watering. Proper tears.
Care waves to Quins fans after a big game at Twickenham
(Image: Getty Images)
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“Without getting all soppy, the reason I still play is for my kids and my family. To make them proud. Having them back with me on the pitch meant everything to me.”
Since March last year top flight English rugby has spent five months in shutdown and a further nine operating behind in empty stadiums.
“Rugby for me has always been about trying to put smiles on faces,” Care said. “For a year or more there was only us: players, coaches and backroom staff.
Care scores for Harlequins in 2012, the year of their previous Premiership triumph
“I'd say we got used to playing in front of no-one, only you don't. I hated it. You put on a brave face but I hated every minute of it. I was fully done with it.”
Care, 34, knows people have had it far tougher than professional sportsmen. That they have been amongst the luckier ones in being able to continue to work.
But it hurt seeing his parents unable to follow Quins up and down the land – and his wife and kids have to resort to TV to support him on matchdays.
All smiles: Care scores against Japan on his last England appearance in 2018
(Image: Getty Images)
When the turnstiles were locked in September and Boris Johnson said there could be empty stadiums for the next six months, Care feared his family might never see him play live again.
His concerns appeared well founded. Quins were sinking fast and the scrum-half’s contract was up.
Yet, remarkably, the Londoners reinvented themselves, turned their season around and Care was not only rewarded with a new contract he almost made the Lions.
Care: “Rugby for me has always been about trying to put smiles on faces”
Whether this fairy tale has one more chapter, when Quins take on table-toppers Bristol in front of a 6,606 crowd at Ashton Gate, remains to be seen.
“Everyone will be writing us off, and that’s fine by us,” said Care. “On our day we believe we can cause any team problems.
“It can’t have been easy, the past few years, being a Quins fan but I’m told people have fallen back in love with the way we’re now playing.
"That for us is a win. But we’re not done yet.”