Danny Care is on course to emerge from the doghouse and make a return to the England squad for the summer tour of South Africa, following a positive meeting with coach Stuart Lancaster.
The 25-year-old Harlequins scrum-half was banished from the squad in January, following two alcohol-related incidents in quick succession — the second leading to a court appearance and driving ban. Since then, Care has been arrested and cautioned in Leeds for being drunk and disorderly and arrested over an alleged sexual assault, which he vehemently denies, before being bailed pending further police investigations.
Despite this build-up of off-field controversies for the Yorkshireman — who missed the World Cup through injury — he is on the verge of being welcomed back into the England ranks, having been overlooked throughout the Six Nations.
Sportsmail has learned that Care had a meeting with Lancaster last week and received indications that his superb form and improved behaviour have forced him into contention for a Test recall.
Having been appointed initially as interim head coach of the national team, Lancaster tried to tackle the problem of indiscipline which blighted the World Cup campaign under Martin Johnson.
He illustrated his commitment to a clean-up operation soon after being given the job by taking firm action against Care, who he knows well and admires after coaching him at Leeds.
Even when the player’s problems continued, Lancaster expressed disappointment but also a firm belief Care was by no means an innate trouble-maker with an alcohol problem. He sought to support Harlequins in their attempts to help Care change his ways.
The club have been encouraged by his response, particularly in the last month, and his over-riding focus on his game has been reflected in outstanding form.
It appears he has earned another England chance and is set to gain a place in the enlarged squad of 40 for the tour of South Africa in June, featuring three Tests and two midweek games. Lancaster will announce his provisional selection on May 10.
Providing he avoids any further disciplinary lapses or injuries, Care should have a chance of pushing for a Test return.
He has 32 caps, with his most recent appearance coming in Cardiff last August, before a broken toe forced him out of the World Cup.
In his absence, Lee Dickson of Northampton emerged as the prime challenger to Ben Youngs for the No 9 shirt. However, Care’s pace and adventurous streak would be suited to the hard grounds in South Africa.
Lancaster is preparing to supplement the senior squad from the Six Nations with a batch of young players for his first, daunting southern hemisphere expedition.
Among those in contention to make the trip is rookie Leicester fly-half and IRB World Young Player of the Year George Ford. Yet his director of rugby at the Tigers, Richard Cockerill, suggested an early promotion to the senior England ranks would not be in Ford’s interests.
‘George clearly has a lot of talent but he still needs to develop physically and at some stage he needs to have a pre-season to do that,’ he said.