Carling keeps cool as rat pack swoops on Stoop

Rugby Union
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Rugby Union

STEVE BALE

Will Carling will find it somewhat easier coping with West Hartlepool at The Stoop this afternoon than with those who will be present for anything but the rugby. "The whole rat-pack will be out but what can we do?" Quins' Alex Saward sighed in anticipation.

Rugby has no precedent, thank goodness, for the publicly played-out antagonism and anguish of Carling's separation from his wife, Julia, nor for the attendant media prurience. But better to front up now, so the line from Quins and by extension Carling goes, than delay the inevitable.

So the England World Cup captain is due to play, the team having been chosen in the knowledge of the furore to come and announced after the separation had been made public. "I don't see the club at any stage saying 'I'm sorry, Will, we don't want you to play'," Saward said. "He trained, he is in the team, and he has not said he doesn't want to play."

Provided this remains the case, it will answer those who have questioned Carling's club commitment down the years of his international captaincy. As it happens, he managed to display some of his finest form even while his personal problems were reaching their unhappy conclusion.

Remarkably, Quins' perennial under-achievers stand alongside Bath at the head of the Courage Championship with three wins from three - and would even go clear if they won and Bath lost at home to Orrell or if they won by a margin eight points greater than Bath beat Orrell. Of which there is about as much chance as there is of Will Carling being left in peace.

Quins take on West without another England player who cannot keep out of the public eye, Brian Moore, whose place at hooker goes to the West old boy Simon Mitchell. Just as well, perhaps, for Moore to be allowed to avoid playing in the same side after the criticism of Carling's captaincy in his autobiography, though he does have a place on the bench.

In view of opinions expressed in the book about officialdom, Moore probably could not care less that the Rugby Football Union will not be investigating his view of Carling. But if he still has a place in future England squads he will need to become unwontedly reticent.

"When contracts become a way of life for England squad players under the new open rugby there will a clause relating to bringing the game into disrepute," Tony Hallett, the RFU secretary, said. "Not that I'm suggesting that Moore's remarks come into this category in any way." Of course not. Contract details will be revealed at Twickenham on Monday.

In the pursuit of Bath and Harlequins, meanwhile, Leicester dare not slip up at Gloucester - who are under new management in the shape of England's most-capped scrum-half, Richard Hill - nor Wasps at Sale. Equally, the numbers fighting relegation increased when Orrell beat Sale and the need for points is no less urgent for Saracens and Bristol at Southgate than it is for Gloucester and all three northern clubs.

Welsh rugby's Heineken League presents an occasion to rival last Saturday's involving Leicester and Bath, though the punters who will fill Stradey Park to see Llanelli and Cardiff will hope for a match that does truer justice to the expectation.

News from elsewhere is that time is almost up for Bob Dwyer, coach of the great Australian teams of the Nineties. Dwyer is in Paris helping coach Racing Club so will not be in Sydney next Saturday when the choice is made between him, Greg Smith of New South Wales and John Connolly of Queensland. Smith already has the five NSW votes sewn up and Connolly Queensland's three, leaving the only hope for Dwyer to garner all the remaining six.

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