Carling runs into the media scrum

WILL BENNETT

and STEVE BALE

Will Carling will today sidestep his marital difficulties and run into the sort of problems he must overcome if he is to hold on to his position as captain of England's rugby union team.

When he takes the field for his club, Harlequins, against West Hartlepool this afternoon, he will run a gauntlet of pressmen, television cameras and photographers, and already some are saying that intense media interest in the saga of the sporting hero, the princess and the angry wife will make his continued leadership of the national side increasingly difficult.

The press box at Harlequins' ground in south-west London is fully booked and Jonathan Holmes, Carling's agent, said yesterday he was negotiating a bonus for the increased attendance when his client played for the home team today. In the wake of the split between Carling and his wife of 14 months, Julia, amid rumours of a relationship with the Princess of Wales, the player's every move will be analysed by journalists more familiar with the level of the Princess's hemline than with the attacking style of the Harlequins' three-quarters.

The extra pressure on Carling will add weight to the views of those arguing on sporting grounds that, after seven years, it is time for a change. The personal drama, which began to unfold nearly three months ago when news of Carling's friendship with the Princess first broke, continued with an acidic statement from his wife yesterday.

Mrs Carling, who went to stay with her parents in Northamptonshire, said: "I confirm that my husband and I have separated. It saddens me deeply that this has happened but the recent pressures and tensions have produced this situation. I had always valued my marriage as the most important and sacred part of my life and it hurts me very much to face losing my husband in a manner which has become outside my control. I have given total support to Will and this has unfortunately proved to no avail."

Rat pack swoops, page 29

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