Danny Care hopes a heartbreaking defeat by South Africa in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final has won over any England fans who had grown disillusioned with the team.
England went out on their shields after the Springboks needed a last-gasp penalty from Handre Pollard to snatch victory having trailed for 75 minute of a thunderous showdown at the Stade de France.
As Owen Farrell orchestrated a wet weather masterclass that rattled the world champions, the discontent generated by poor recent Six Nations campaigns, the Eddie Jones era limping on for too long and August’s alarming collapse in form faded away.
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And although the distant outsiders were unable to complete their unlikely mission of securing a place in next Saturday’s final against New Zealand, head coach Steve Borthwick should begin rebuilding his side amid a groundswell of support.
Booing is a sound heard frequently at England games in recent times, particularly at Twickenham, but Care views the progress made in France under Borthwick’s guidance as a cause to rally around.
“There was a lot of stuff said about us before and hopefully we’ve changed some perceptions, maybe got people believing in us again,” the Harlequins scrum-half said.
“Before the tournament, we understand that because of our performances people were doubting us a little bit. But then things clicked into gear a bit when we got over to France.
“We’ve shown stuff that fans can hopefully get behind and be proud of. The support we’ve had over here and back home has been amazing. This team will go on to bigger and better things, I’m sure of it.”
England led by nine points until RG Snyman went over in the 70th minute, but the tide had already begun turning as South Africa’s ‘Bomb Squad’ forced four scrum penalties.
“It was tough in that changing room. Unfortunately great effort doesn’t get you over the line sometimes,” said the 36-year-old Care, who revealed he will remain available for Test selection after the World Cup.
“I was sat in the bath with Maro Itoje and we were saying how sport can be cruel. It’s why we love it so much, it’s on a knife edge so often. There’s one happy changing room, one sad one.
“For me personally, when time is running out on your international career it’s tough to take, but I’m incredibly proud to be part of this team.”
England have one final assignment before departing France in the shape of Friday’s bronze final, customarily an unloved fixture in the World Cup schedule. But Care insists third place is a prize worth winning.
“We’d love to have been in the big dance but we’re not. The next best thing you can do is to finish third and try to make more people back home proud of this England team,” Care said.
“We’ll dust ourselves off pretty quick. Losing to South Africa is going to be harsh and tough to take for a couple of days but that’s sport – you’ve got to bounce back.”