Carling returns to pragmatic line

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Rugby Union

It has taken Will Carling one match - the defeat in France - for him to decide that, after all, he prefers winning to artistic content. After going to Paris declaring style to be paramount, by yesterday the England captain had changed his mind for tomorrow's game against Wales at Twickenham.

Thursday has come by tradition to be Carling day during international weeks though, after all this time, 56 matches as captain over seven years and three months, both questions and answers are starting to run out. Each Carling briefing is now ritually preceded by the insistence that his interlocutors stick to rugby rather than gossip.

So, yet again, style or substance, substance or style? What would Twickenham's 78,000 prefer in the new era of professional rugby as an entertainment?

"I would like to provide the crowd with a win; that's what they enjoy," Carling said. "I am of the firm belief, and always have been, that people go to Twickenham to see us win. I love running rugby, that's what we want to play, but more than anything I want to win."

There is a contradiction here with Carling's remarks 15 days earlier, on the eve of England's departure for Paris, when he said: "Our style of play is more important, if we are to be consistently successful against the southern hemisphere, than just focusing everything on winning another Grand Slam. If that was the case, we would have picked a different side."

How Carling knows that the choice would have differed is an intriguing subject, since yesterday he disclosed for the first time that since Jack Rowell had become England manager in 1994 the captain had not been involved in selection.

This demonstrates both how uncomfortably close Carling was to Rowell's predecessor, Geoff Cooke, and how comparatively distant he is from Rowell, who insisted that Carling was always consulted - as indeed was Ben Clarke, the pack leader.

Where Rowell had insisted on Wednesday that it was time for the senior lieutenants to assist the captain by pulling their weight on the field, Carling himself did not see it that way 24 hours later. "Responsibility is with the whole of the team," he asserted, though, after the looseness with which England conceded defeat to France, Rowell had a fair point.

"We've had this discussion so many times," Carling sighed. "You can analyse why games are lost to the nth degree. Sure, there were some wrong decisions, but there were far more right ones. People will always make mistakes and I'm not one for dwelling on them. I'm not pointing any fingers at anyone."

This is very decent of Carling, who ventures to suggest that this England team could ultimately emulate the rugby of the 1992 team, whose Grand Slam came accompanied by 15 tries. "You get that through confidence, through a very stable side who've been together for a very long period," he said.

"It comes from a tremendous bond in the players, a trust and knowledge of what you are trying to do. You can't just throw that together, but I believe this side, with a bit of luck and experience, will be able to play very exciting rugby too." Which is roughly what the Welsh are saying about their team, too.