Carling wary of Welsh fire

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At about this time every two years Will Carling is asked to consider the Arms Park factor, a collective phobia that supposedly descends on Englishmen whenever they are confronted - as Carling's team are tomorrow - by a game against Wales in Cardiff.

Yesterday the England captain said, as he does biennially, that there is really no such thing and then, as is also his wont, went on to explain why the Welsh are so damnably difficult to beat in their own capital city. He is fed up being reminded that England have won there once in 32 years.

"We don't sit around asking each other if there are any mental hang-ups," Carling said after yesterday's private practice at the Bristol University ground and before leaving England's five-star hotel in Bath for the dreaded Cardiff. "There is no doubt Wales play exceptionally well in Cardiff, and even better in Cardiff against England.

"A lot of it is that the Welsh get themselves in a superb state of mind to play England. The Welsh have this pride. It's similar at Murrayfield but, whatever their record, the Welsh have always had good players and they raise their level of performance when they play England, especially at Cardiff, so if ever there is a weakness they will find it.''

By way of propaganda, the Welsh Rugby Union has this week been helpfully circulating statistics of England's persistent post-war demises in Cardiff, among them the English failure to score a try in 12 of their 18 visits and that the last try by a back, Simon Smith's in 1985, was 385 minutes ago. Since then, Mike Teague's in '91 stands alone.

However, handsome defeats of Ireland and France over the past month have made England the bookmakers' favourites to win by 10 points. One of Carling's teams - the 1991 one - were the first to lay the Arms Park bogy since Richard Sharp's in 1963 but Carling's teams of 1989 and 1993 were as fancied as this 1995 version and lost like their predecessors.

"We had a great game against France but that will mean nothing when we run out on Saturday," he said. "We look at it as a very, very hard place to go and play. But if we get ourselves right we are capable of winning there. Perhaps England teams who went there before never thought themselves capable of winning whatever happened.''

Mention of England's trouble-free victory at Lansdowne Road came as a poignant reminder that sport can actually be played in an atmosphere of goodwill, and Carling exuded it yesterday as he congratulated the Wales team on their manifold attributes.

"They have probably got the best front five in terms of set-piece ball- winning capability that we will come up against," the captain said. "They have two very good tacical-kicking half-backs. They have two very fast wings. They are very hard to beat, as South Africa found.''

Not only manifold but, it seems, superior to those of either Ireland or France. "They are very street-wise as well, and that's why they will cause us more problems than the other two. They are worldly wise in trying to stop us getting into a rhythm." This, too, is propaganda.