Quins duo help England pull off astonishing victory

Danny Care came off the bench to thunderous applause at Twickenham to earn his 100th England cap – and helped put the finishing touches to an astonishing victory over Six Nations champions Ireland – with a little help from his Quins team-mate Marcus Smith.

We have seen it all before from Smith – that desire to be the big player orchestrating the biggest plays in the biggest matches. And the fly-half, who was one of five Harlequins players called up for Saturday’s classic, had the vision and composure to slot home the winning drop goal with the clock in the red.

The provider of the winning pass? Danny Care, of course.

What drama. England, 8-17 down early in the second half, somehow found a way to win it, 23-22. There was pandemonium in the house after that incredible finale.

Few gave England much hope of halting the imperious Irish from running away with a second successive Grand Slam. Their form has been patchy under new boss Steve Borthwick, to say the least, and they were well beaten by Scotland a fortnight ago. But they prevailed in one of the most exhilarating matches the old Cabbage Patch has seen in recent years.

We might have known the Quins pair would have a say in matters, even if they were not given starts.

Smith came on for George Ford, who had missed a simple penalty and two conversions in a tight match where frittered points looked like being fatal. But within two minutes of coming on, Smith slotted past the uprights to convert the Ben Earl try which had England dreaming of a shock win against a team that has dominated northern hemisphere rugby in the past two years.

Leading 20-17, Care came on to see if he could get the Red Roses over the line. The ‘bad boy’ of English rugby was soon sniping at the breakdown and attempting those trademark grubber kicks to break through the green shirts’ defensive lines – keeping the opponents guessing. Keeping them on their toes.

In the end it needed the combination of Care and Smith to administer the crucial blow after James Lowe’s second try of the afternoon had threatened to ruin the party for Care and England.

“It’s about getting the win today and that’s the icing on the cake, against the best team in the world,” said the beaming 37-year-old from Leeds, who made his debut for England in New Zealand in 2008.

“A lot’s been said about us, and we wanted to go out there and show we could beat the best. We believe this squad is going places, whether this year, next year or in a couple of years’ time. I urge people to stick with us.

“Against Scotland we were not where we wanted to be, and we wanted to show the world what we were all about. We thought we could cause them some problems and it turns out we could. I’m so proud we found a way to win.”

Care, who had his three children with him on the pitch after the game, admits he did not expect to become only the sixth Englishman to rack up a century of caps.

“I’ve been dropped a few times,” he said, “But I’ve always tried to just believe in myself. The thing I love most in the world, apart from the wife and the kids, is playing for England. I never thought I’d get this feeling again.

“This game is right up there [among my favourites]. You dream of days like this.”

Smith also paid tribute to his team-mate for club and country: “I’ve played with DC many times now and he always put it on strings for me,” said the match-winner. “I’m grateful to him and a special shout for his 100 caps too.

“It was an absolute pleasure to be out there today and hopefully we can kick on now.”

The great Jonny Wilkinson also praised Care after the match, saying: “You’ve got a guy who’s just getting better, shining brighter and you wouldn’t have a clue what age he is.”

The vintage Care certainly played his part in a remarkable afternoon.

Other Quins players taking part off the bench were Joe Marler, and Chandler Cunningham-South, who impressed with a couple of bullocking carries before succumbing to a knee injury. Alex Dombrandt was also in the wings.