Players' revolt brews over Carling dismissal

WILL CARLING, England's record-breaking rugby union captain, was yesterday dismissed after describing the leadership of the Rugby Football Union as "57 old farts". The move, on the eve of the rugby World Cup in South Africa, threatens a players' revolt.

Outraged fans at yesterday's Pilkington Cup Final between Bath and Wasps at the game's Twickenham headquarters chanted "Carling, Carling" and booed the names of RFU officials.

Carling, 29, has led the England side for a record 48 internationals with unprecedented success. He can still play for England, but not as captain.

The sacking was agreed on Friday night by Dennis Easby, the RFU president, and four other officers. Their statement, issued yesterday, said: "In the light of the views Will Carling has recently expressed regarding administrators, it is considered inappropriate for him to continue to represent, as the England captain, the Rugby Football Union, England and, indeed, English sport."

The sacking will almost certainly be discussed when the England squad, which leaves for South Africa in 10 days' time, meets for training tomorrow night. Yesterday, Jon Callard, a member of the squad, said: "This has got to be put right. You can't have a chap who has served England so well for so long treated in this way." Callard added that the players could unite to influence the decisions that have been made: "We'll see the power of the England squad - at the end of the day, who is going to bring back the World Cup, the players or the committee?"

Carling made his remarks - for which he later apologised - in a Channel 4 television documentary on Thursday. Behind them lie a simmering row over whether top rugby union players should be paid. Carling has long supported financial benefits. The issue had looked likely to remain on the back-burner until after the World Cup; Carling's sacking has brought it to a head at the worst possible time for the England team.

Carling became captain at 22, the youngest man ever to lead the national side. Under him England achieved 37 victories, won three Grand Slams in the Five Nations Championship and reached the last World Cup final in 1991. He is now playing his best rugby for years.

In reaction to the announcement yesterday, the bookmakers William Hill lengthened the odds on England winning the World Cup from 4-1 to 9-2.

Carling said yesterday: "I am very sad and disappointed to lose the captaincy. I am sorry that my remarks were misconstrued and heard out of context. I have got to pull myself together, get on with my life and rugby, and help England win the World Cup."

Among those who leapt to Carling's defence yesterday was Gary Lineker, the former England soccer captain, who spoke of the "never-ending absurdity of the administration of sport" and said that the RFU had "dummies in the mouth". Tony Banks, the Labour MP for Newham North-West, commented: "His sacking shows that what he said was true. They are old farts."

Full reports, Sport

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