Far from his leadership position being under any threat, Will Carling emerged yesterday from his months of tribulation with his position as England captain intact, not only against South Africa at Twickenham on 18 November but also for the Five Nations' Championship that follows in the new year.
Whether or not he was offered the captaincy in August - as he said at the time but Jack Rowell, the manager, later denied when the Rugby Football Union took umbrage - has therefore become immaterial, though that episode was an embarrassment all parties could have done without. Yesterday Carling said: "It's something that I never take for granted."
Carling will preside over a changed team, with both Brian Moore and Dean Richards dropped and neither even making the bench. Indeed the 33-year- old Moore is discarded so completely that the hooker on the bench is a 36-year-old who unlike Moore had not been in the squad this season, Graham Dawe.
Mark Regan, 23, the Bristol hooker, will win his first cap in Moore's stead. The back row is reshaped by reintroducing a genuine open-side in Andy Robinson, last capped in 1989, and aborting the Ben Clarke experiment by returning him to No 8 in preference to Richards.
The retirements of Rob Andrew and Dewi Morris also entailed a reshaping of the back division. Rowell is not satisfied that David Pears is ready to succeed Andrew, so Mike Catt moves to outside-half, which entails the return of a goal-kicking full-back, even if Jonathan Callard is not quite the strike runner Rowell keeps saying he needs. Kyran Bracken is restored as Catt's half-back partner, with the vacancy left on the right wing by Tony Underwood's and Ian Hunter's injuries being filled by a centre, Damian Hopley.
The captaincy stays with Carling on the basis of his exceptional form this season as well as the absence of any obvious alternative. "In my time Will has improved as captain," Rowell said generously yesterday. "He relaunched his form again this season and his leadership qualities are undiminished. But it was important to stop and think after the World Cup."
The manager is not necessarily ruling Moore out of his future plans; the South Africa game may show him to be needed. But after 64 caps since 1987, the discarded hooker has few crumbs of managerial comfort. "He asked me if he had an international future," Rowell said. "He does have a future but England are also looking to the future with a younger man."
As Carling has said he does not intend to be around for the 1999 World Cup, Rowell still has a captain to find. Scotland's selectors have already identified theirs to succeed Gavin Hastings, who like Andrew has retired from international rugby. Rob Wainwright was an obvious choice.
Wainwright, shortly to return to Edinburgh Academicals after a season and a bit with West Hartlepool, will lead a side containing three new caps against Western Samoa at Murrayfield on 18 November. Most notably, the Melrose full-back Rowan Shepherd has the onerous responsibility of filling the former captain's position. With Kevin McKenzie injured, the long-serving Hawick hooker Jim Hay is Ken Milne's successor, and Stuart Reid, Boroughmuir's in-form No 8, finally gets his chance alongside Wainwright.
Replacements will not be named until after the Scotland A v Samoa match on 12 November, with tight-head prop being left open pending the result of Peter Wright's disciplinary hearing. The Boroughmuir captain was dismissed against Edinburgh Accies last Saturday for abusing the referee.
European and tour reports, page 31
ENGLAND (v South Africa, Twickenham, 18 Nov): J Callard (Bath); D Hopley (Wasps), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); M Catt (Bath), K Bracken (Bristol); J Leonard (Harl- equins), M Regan (Bristol), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), B Clarke, A Robinson (Bath). Replacements: P de Glanville (Bath), D Pears (Harlequins), M Dawson (Northampton), G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe (Bath), L Dallaglio (Wasps).
SCOTLAND (v Western Samoa, Murrayfield, 18 Nov): R Shepherd (Melrose); M Dods, G Townsend (Northampton), G Shiel (Melrose), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers, B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), J Hay (Hawick), A N Other, D Cronin (Bourges), G Weir (Melrose), R Wainwright (West Hartlepool, capt), S Reid (Boroughmuir), I Smith (Gloucester).Reuse content